BROSARD, Quebec — Like all wild fans, Bill Guerin was disappointed and stunned by the team’s inexplicable 1-3-1 start a year ago after setting a franchise record of 113 points.
He can’t believe how many good, trustworthy players have gotten off to a bad start. He was frustrated with his overall defensive performance. And he was very dissatisfied with the level of play, not so much the effort as the way the team worked.
He sees the same red flags that many of you see, but he also doesn’t want to overreact to five races in a long season, because the reality is that a couple of paltry victories are going to take a toll not only in the standings but also mentally. Wild jumped up.
He didn’t want to waste an option so early, rushing through the locker room door and tearing up players. And, for now, he’s letting coaches do the coaching and hasn’t gone the route of hosting individual meetings.
But the general manager of Wild is working with sports On Sunday’s rest day in Montreal, it’s time for the Wild players to pull together or things will derail.
“I think it’s pretty simple: We’re just not a pretty team,” Guerin said, an astonishing statement when people think last season’s Recreational lineup was a pretty good one.
“We have some skills – maybe not as many as other teams – so when we’re not playing hard, not heavy, not physically, when we’re not competing at the level we need to, we struggle. Yes, we’re good. That’s how we’re good. We don’t do it now. I don’t see it. I want to start seeing it.”
A hard game to digest. one more time, #mnwild Unable to keep the lead, forced to bounce back and did so with two goals down to get a point.
But they lost 10 seconds before the shootout after nearly all of the overtime was understaffed.
My story from Boston >>> https://t.co/Sjq1FA2Vvt
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) October 23, 2022
That’s one reason head coach Dean Evason was criticized in the playoffs last season for not adjusting his defense and defensive mix when St. Louis began to gain traction during the Blues’ eventual first-round win. Throwing his forward line and defensive combo into a blender practice Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in preparation for Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens.
After starting the season with last year’s No. 1 center Ryan Hartman back between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, The Wilds will try their third No. 1 center in six games. The person who received the call on Tuesday night in front of possibly more than 100 friends and family members was Freddy Gaudreau, about an hour’s drive outside Montreal.
The most notable changes on Monday were the separations of longtime teammates Joel Erickson Ek and Marcus Fulinho and defensive partners Jonas Brodin and Matt Dunbar. All four players had a tough start, especially the bottom three. Fulinho doesn’t look like himself, perhaps trying to play the game too skillfully, rather than having his bread and butter in charge of defense and deep into the puck to help his defense build anticipation. Brodin’s performance is terribly bad, and Dunbar has been a liability on the defensive end, especially in terms of turnover propensity.
“We didn’t have much success,” Evason said. “So we’ve been tinkering with a few different things and wanted to see here today. … We had some success with lineup combinations last year in the regular season. It’s a new year and we may have to change with some combinations Our thought process. So we’re going to tinker a little bit. That’s what coaches have in their toolbox, which is tweaking things, getting some people, raising their awareness, and hopefully we can find the combination that works.”
On Monday, Foligno skated to the left of Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy, while Eriksson Ek was in the center of Brandon Duhaime and Hartman. The fourth unit consists of Tyson Yost, who has had a very disappointing start to the season after a solid training camp, rotating with Sam Steele as well as Conor Dewar and Mason Shaw.
At the back end, the pairing of Jake Middleton and Jared Spurgeon was intact, but Brodin was paired with Calen Addison and Dumba was on Jon Merrill’s right.
“Cheer up,” Dumba said, understanding the reasons for the changes. “We didn’t have the success we wanted, so some things had to change, the players had to step up. The guys had to start playing their game, including myself of course. I admit it.”
On Monday, Ewasson won’t be picking any players specifically, saying: “We can sit here and look at our entire squad and say that everybody may not be as good as we expected. Our team is not as good as we expected. That’s good, and we’re not as good as the coaching staff. Otherwise, we’d have a better record than us. Picking a guy, no, not a chance. We’re all responsible for our start, and we’ll get out of it.”
Last week, however, after the Wilds’ lone victory over still-unwinned Vancouver, Evason said less subtly: “Those who always keep their composure…don’t.”
He’s obviously talking about players like Brodin, Spurgeon, Flinho and Hartman.
But there are others who are starting to struggle.
Marc-Andre Fleury has conceded 18 goals in his first four starts, and while he has been much better in his last two games with three points at the top of the table, his first four games 11 goals were astounding.
Dumba, his 10th in the Wild and almost certainly last season, has been giving up pucks like Halloween candy and scored a poor penalty in the closing seconds of Boston’s overtime loss on Saturday. .
Jost didn’t get off to a great start after a terrific training camp and failed to take advantage of Jordan Greenway’s golden opportunity to drop out of the lineup. Jost, starting with Eriksson Ek and Foligno, would be an understatement to say this doesn’t work. Against the Bears, every analysis showed them dominating the entire ice. Greenway won’t meet the wilds on a five-game road trip, though Gaeling said he doesn’t think he’ll be out “super long.”
Guerin doesn’t know why the GREEF Line has traditionally not been as effective in the absence of one of Greenway, Eriksson Ek or Foligno, but said coaches have to keep trying to find chemistry while “getting each other at times is also a kind of break,” thus adding Eriksson Ek kicked off Foligno’s hip: “If things don’t go well, you have to try something new. But Marcus and Ek have to find a more efficient way.”
“We do have guys who can play better,” Guerin added. “Everyone wants to play better, but you just have to play harder and be a little bit smarter. There are some positive things like our power play is really good. It’s something we really need to do better. I Think it helps us. We’ve scored some goals. We just have to commit to this work ethic and sacrifice.
“We’re not blocking enough shots. We’re not executing with the puck. If you look, it’s just little things all over the place. Our pass isn’t on tape. We’re turning the puck over and that’s not us.”
Wild’s 12.86 blocks per 60 minutes rank 26th in the NHL. Ewasson said it was a sign of a lack of commitment and it had been addressed.
Guerin isn’t planning to blow up the team in five games this season, but if that continues, some players will have to be on their toes.
Dumba is in the final year of his contract, so that alone makes him a potential trade option anytime before the March 3 trade deadline, especially considering that Minnesota captain Brock Faber is expected to be in his junior season. Signed later and has the potential to go straight into Wild’s roster.
Yost is a pending restricted free agent, and if he doesn’t resume play in dramatic fashion, his future in Minnesota may not be long.
“I’d like to see this team figure things out on their own,” Guerin said. “And I have a lot of personality, I think we have a lot of personality.”
Just in time, players of different factions strolled past while Gaelin spoke on the outdoor patio, walking to dinner on Sunday night.
Veterans Spurgeon, Eriksson Ek and Zuccarello are heading to a restaurant with 21-year-old Rossi. It wasn’t long before Flinho walked by with young Steele and Addison.
“That’s what I mean,” Guerin said. “We have good people in this team. It says a lot. No one is left behind, no one is forgotten and it makes our youngsters feel a lot easier.”
But that doesn’t necessarily translate to victory, which is what Gaeling wants to start seeing.
“No one gives like we did last year,” Guerin said. “Nobody cares how good last year was. You have to show up every night and play hard and it feels like some of us just thought they could step on the ice and we’re going to be a good team like we were last year, They will also be good players.
“We have higher expectations. Things are different. … We have to get better every year. We have to push. And I think right now, maybe, we think we’re just going to pick up where we left off at the end of last regular season. But it’s not. We have to get better. We’ll be tougher on the players because we expect more.”
But, again, Guerin isn’t at the point where he’s going to enter the locker room and start screaming and yelling, even though he’s thought about it. On the defensive end, he really wants to see improvement, not only from the players on the ice, but also from the coaches who train with the players.
“You can’t just go out there and yell at players and force them to play better,” Guerin said. “You just can’t do that. It adds to the pressure. They need support. They need help. They need coaching. Just like a real coach, I believe our players are doing it. Then they need my support. If When a guy doesn’t play well, I don’t look at him or I don’t talk to him, that’s not one of those things. It doesn’t help him. They really need support.”
Wild is aiming to start this year.
Fleury is expected to play his 944th career regular-season game on Tuesday night where he scored his 500th career win last season to overtake Curtis Joseph’s sixth game, 1-1- 1, with a 5.25 average and 0.847 saving percentage. Substitute Philip Gustafsson, former Senators goalie, 0-2 with an average of 5.06 goals and a 0.860 save percentage.
Marc-Andre Fleury starts tomorrow #habs. The location of his 500th victory #Canadian Fans serenade Quebec natives https://t.co/wlK9egu2Ig
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) October 24, 2022
But Guerin insisted he wasn’t worried and wasn’t actively seeking a solution to the problem.
Guerin felt that Fleury didn’t get enough work in the preseason, “while Flower likes to do a lot of work. He thrives on that. We should probably use him more, but I think Flower is very competitive and no one is better than He was more disappointed. But he really got to work. He was really focused on practice and his game prep and all that stuff. He’s a professional. He’s not going to just sit around and let it happen.
“But I believe in these two men. Gus is in a new place. Flower just re-established himself. Sometimes it takes time. You have to be patient with men. I still believe in both of them.”
The coaches vacationed on a boat on the St. Lawrence River on Sunday to a local spa. They love it so much that several players headed there after Monday’s practice to, in Dumba’s words, “give the body what it needs and keep the mind right.”
“I still believe in this team. I’m not worried,” Dumba said. “We’ve been here (in Montreal) for a couple of days, come together and understand that we’re good. We’re good. We’ve had a couple of wins and we’re good. Two wins and you’re back…you’ve surpassed 0.500. Let’s find the positives from the last two games. We got three quarters. So we’re going in the right direction. Everything else is behind us and you have to move forward.”
Guerin echoed that sentiment, saying, “I want these guys to say, ‘F-it, and let’s go.’ Take away time and space. Do it. Be hard on men. Don’t worry about making mistakes, because when you worry about making mistakes, You’re going to make mistakes. We’re just (3) points off the wild card spot, not 20. I still believe in this team. I still believe in the boys.
“It’s not the start we’re looking for. So we really just have to get to work. If we get to work, there’s a lot of time. If we continue like this, it could be a long year, but not now.”
(Photo: Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY)