ANAHEIM, Calif. — There’s something about a lengthy road trip that has a way of bringing a team together.
You saw it last season with the Wild when they went 5-2-0 on their longest road trip of the season and parlayed that into patches of solid play before things eventually came crashing down.
The Wild are hoping for a similar injection of life — minus that crashing down part — during their 10-day West Coast swing that starts with Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. They left the Twin Cities with a 4-9-1 record, dead last in the Central Division.
“If we can collect wins early, it’s going to bring everyone together,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “We have some days off, too, where we can enjoy ourselves as a team and enjoy the weather. But it’s not going to be fun unless we win. That’s something we need to do because these things can sometimes help turn the season around.”
As for why a lengthy road trip can bring the best out of a team, it seems to have something to do with the fact that everyone is together without distractions.
“We have had trips before where we have gone 5 of 6 on the road or 6 of 6 on the road,” backup goaltender Alex Stalock said. “Any time we can be with just the group of guys, it’s good. You can see the excitement in the guys. Plus, I think the sun brings a lot of smiles out. We obviously know what our goal is on the ice. We also want to make sure we keep it fun off the ice as well.”
Still, it’s not like a couple of hours at the pool, or a few team dinners, is going to directly translate to better play on the ice.
“I think every team has to find its own thing that’s going to get it together,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That was something that happened to us last season. And we’ve probably hoping for the same thing this season.”
Though the Wild have struggled since the implementation of 3-on-3 overtime, Boudreau still appreciates it at its core.
“It’s friggin’ exciting,” Boudreau said. “And it’s really good when we win.”
That, of course, wasn’t the case over the weekend when the Wild lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues in overtime as star center Ryan O’Reilly wheeled around would-be defenders before flinging a puck past goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
“After the last game we’re going to have a new strategy,” Boudreau said. “We went through three preseason games and one regular-season game and we didn’t have any success. Just to keep trying the same stuff sounds pretty ridiculous, so we’re going to try something new if it happens again.”
Because the 3-on-3 overtime is so predicated on speed, it wouldn’t shock anyone if Boudreau relied on some of his younger players next time.
Not that he was willing to confirm anything.
“I’m not putting words into anything,” Boudreau said. “I’m just saying it’s going to be different.”
Don't get too cute
Whenever a player is struggling to put the puck in the net, Boudreau always goes back to the advice passed down by his late father Norman.
“He used to say any time you’re in a slump just start shooting pucks at the net, and if you get six or seven shots at the net, eventually something is going to go in,” Boudreau said. “I keep telling the guys that. I still believe in that philosophy.”
A perfect example of that came over the weekend when snakebitten winger Kevin Fiala finally scored his first goal of the season. He simply collected a puck along the boards, flung it on net, and it whistled past goaltender Jake Allen.
“You’re in a slump to try to make things cuter and perfect,” Boudreau said. “You just need to simplify and do those things.”