Head coach Dean Evason had some strong suggestions for his Minnesota Wild players after Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The Wild started out the game strong, scoring a goal in the first period, and then doubling their lead with a tidy finish in the third. Everything was going according to plan, up by a couple goals with six minutes left — but disaster came eventually, as the Sharks scored two goals within two minutes of each other and forced the overtime period, eventually winning in the shootout.
For Evason, the collapse was deserving.
“We got what we asked for tonight,” he said. “I don’t know how else to describe it, but it was a dumb loss. We played so east-west, so cute; you know, not straight forward. You know, all the hockey cliches, but we didn’t deserve to win that hockey game tonight.”
Losing certainly makes the style of play easy to sour on, but this really isn’t how the Wild win a whole lot of hockey games, and Evason knows that. This team is built to play a certain way and trying to be fancy on the ice is certainly not it.
“I have no idea, because we’re not that good, right?” Evason said when asked why the team was trying to be cute with the puck. “We’re not. We’re not that skilled to have that happen to us. We’re gritty. We’re supposed to take pride in that and I think we do.
“It’s not everybody. There’s people in our lineup that play the right way, and lines and defense pairs that play the right way and they get rewarded for it. And the guys that don’t, they don’t get rewarded for it. And they haven’t been, at least as of late, and certainly our power play is the head of that. We’re trying to finesse things instead of just getting pucks to the net and doing what we’ve done. Our power play has looked good every game because we hang onto [the puck] and we’re passing really nicely, but we’re not scoring any goals on it. So, that’s the start of it and we have to simplify if we want to have success as the Minnesota Wild.”
How the Wild earned the record-breaking season just last year was playing a hard, powerful, and punishing style of play throughout the lineup. Evason clearly doesn’t mean that no one on the team has skill or is good, but just that when everyone wants to play that way instead of simplifying it, mistakes happen. It’s strategy and tactics and style over individual talent, and clearly Evason is a little pissed off that it’s not coming through at this point of the season.
The exceptions can be Kirill Kaprizov, Matt Boldy, and Mats Zuccarello, and then the list sort of just stops there, for now. And all three of those players have the attributes that Evason wants all throughout his lineup in addition to their skill. Kaprizov will straight up murder someone along the boards to get the puck back. Boldy will use his body to protect the puck and keep it going. Zuccarello can skate around and rush up the ice when needed.
Maybe it’s also the absence of two crucial players for the north-south style, in Ryan Hartman and Brandon Duhaime, and then also missing Jordan Greenway currently. That’s a lot of physicality missing from the lineup, and while Mason Shaw has stepped into that role as punishing forechecker, the rookie can only do so much.
We know that Evason can work his magic with this roster and have them win a whole lot of hockey games, but it obviously takes commitment to the bit and not straying from that path. We’ll have to see where this goes, now.