Plan for success takes Wild turn
Minny 26th in goal scoring even after acquiring high-priced superstars
CANUCKS GAME DAY
5 p.m., Xcel Energy Center, SNP, TEAM 1040
Ryan Suter couldn't stomach some bad food last week in St. Louis. If the Minnesota Wild defenceman and his teammates don't reverse some familiar and disturbing trends, that dining discomfort may pale by comparison.
"I was puking on the plane and there's nothing worse than that," Suter recalled Wednesday.
"I had to take an IV and I don't know what happened."
Suter is a startling minus-7 following a promising start after he and Zach Parise signed 13-year, $98-million-US free-agent deals.
And while Parise has done his part with a team-high six goals and 10 points, the Wild haven't won on the road and rank 26th in scoring with 2.2 goals per game.
They've promoted rookie Charlie Coyle to the top line, demoted Dany Heatley to the second and Devin Setoguchi to the third line and have already held a players-only, closed-door meeting.
The Wild even traded for hulking fourth-line winger Mike Rupp on Monday and the 6-foot-5, 243 pounder will make his debut Thursday against the 5-2-2 Vancouver Canucks, who have won three-straight games. Anything to establish a net presence and maybe score an ugly goal or two.
"The biggest thing is we're not scoring," said Suter, who has been paired with rookie Jonas Brodin.
"It's just little details defensively that are killing us. I've had three defensive partners already and that's part of it, but it's no excuse.
"I've got to recognize the systems sooner than later and just react and not think about it."
With seven of their next nine games against Northwest Division opponents, the 4-4-1 Wild are in danger of missing the playoffs again.
Last season, they won 20 of their first 30 games and were leading the league by December before imploding and missing the playoffs by 14 points. Now there's no comfort zone for coach Mike Yeo in the compacted schedule. Getting the right matchups on the road has been a problem, but the club is 4-1-0 at home.
"There's probably more urgency every game," he said.
"Points are more critical and they're magnified because you would normally have time to sort things out. We have to make sure we can find the best mix and we're going to need consistency. You should demand that of yourself."
Heatley is a lot like the Wild. After 14 shots and three goals in his first three outings, the winger didn't have more than two in his next six games and has scored just once.
At practice Wednesday, Heatley was dropped to the second line with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard while Coyle joined the top unit of Mikko Koivu and Parise.
"I don't feel like I'm fighting it," said Heatley. "I wouldn't say it (line change) is unexpected, but I'm playing with two real creative guys and hopefully we can get something going. I feel good, but I've got to keep skating."
Then there's Rupp. He's expected to play with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell and provide some spark and net presence in his measured minutes. Anything to get to Cory Schneider.
"The best thing we can do is hold on to pucks in the offensive zone and it keeps a lot of dangerous guys from getting chances against you and that's our plan," said the journeyman Rupp, who is making his fifth NHL stop.
"I'd like to play a lot of the game in their end beneath the hash marks and hopefully get some pressure on their goalie."
Expectations aren't great for any fourth-liner. What about Rupp?
"He's already met one, he's big," said Yeo. "We just want him to play his game and obviously he's a physical presence. For as big as he is, he's got speed to get in on the forecheck and hit. But he's also got some hands and the ability to get a shot off and to play in the offensive zone."
You can say that about a lot of Wild players.
They just have to show it more often.
"We want to be a team that's tough to play against," said Heatley. "We're not going to blow many teams out and we're going to be in tight games. We have those kind of players who are tough to play against. But we have to score more than two goals a game."
Or have another meeting to figure it all out.
"You have that meeting in an 82-game year, too," stressed Heatley. "After the additions we've made, we feel like we have a real good team here. I believe there's urgency with the short season because in the last 15 or 20 games you're not going to move much in the standings up or down. These next 20 are huge for us."
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