Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mike Yeo and the Final 10 Games

Mike Yeo has a difficult ten games ahead. Photo: Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune
It has been no secret in the first two years of Mike Yeo's tenure as Wild head coach: The Wild tend to falter down the stretch.

In 2011-12, the Wild jumped out to a league best 20-8-4 start. The team finished 15-28-7 and missed out on the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The team finished 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, but by that point, they weren't going to make the postseason.

The following year, the Wild carried a 22-14-2 record with ten games to go in the season. They were sitting sixth in the West and carried a six point cushion on the ninth place Phoenix Coyotes. Yeo's squad went 4-5-1 in those final ten games, and only got into the postseason on a tiebreaker as they finished tied for eighth with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wild went on to be trounced in five games by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

A common theme between the first two seasons: Injuries.

That 2011-12 collapse was injuries ravaging a team that had next to no depth behind the opening day lineup. Four of the team's top six forwards (Mikko Koivu-27 games, Pierre-Marc Bouchard-45 games, Guillaume Latendresse-66 games, and Devin Seotguchi-13 games) and their best defenseman (Marek Zidlicky-41 games) all missed significant time during the season.

Last year, the Wild employed a mainly healthy roster until those final 10 games when they lost Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville to injuries, then went on to lose Niklas Backstrom right before Game 1 of the playoffs. Only losing Heatley and Pominville don't seem like they should have been big losses for this team, but when you were struggling to score like they were, it was.

Minnesota enters their final 10 games this year with the injury report looking like this: Jason Zucker-OUT, Clayton Stoner-OUT, Keith Ballard-Day to Day, Niklas Backstrom-OUT, Josh Harding-OUT.

The injuries to Stoner and Ballard have depleted the defensive corps a bit, but Jon Blum stepped in on Sunday and did a fantastic job. The goaltending situation is less than ideal (a Darcy Kuemper/Ilya Bryzgalov tandem is now in the net), due the injuries that have derailed the seasons of Backstrom and Harding. But up front, the Wild are the strongest they have ever been under Mike Yeo. That will be a HUGE difference maker for this squad in the final ten.

Speaking of the final ten, the Wild have one of the most ugly final ten game schedules in the league. Only three of the last ten come against teams out of the postseason picture (Vancouver, @Winnipeg, Nashville). The remaining seven (@St. Louis, @Phoenix, @Los Angeles, @Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, and St. Louis) are against teams who are locks to make the postseason (sans maybe Phoenix who holds the final Wild Card spot by three points). Four of those seven are coming against teams who are in contention for the President's Trophy.

The schedule stinks, but the roster is in reasonably good condition for the final ten games. It will probably not be pretty, but well, some of us have faith it will all turn out well.

The Wild are six points up on the ninth place team with ten games to go (again). They have the tools to finish it off nicely this time.

The question is, will they?

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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