TORONTO – Upon his return to his home province, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau fully expected to get some tough love. He was planning to drive to his mother’s house Tuesday after a rigorous practice in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, one day removed from his team’s brutal loss in Boston.
Boudreau figured his mom, Theresa — who has scolded him for swearing and making questionable challenges during televised games — would have something to say about the Wild’s current state.
“Spend some quality time, and have her criticize me all night long,” the coach joked. “I just wish she wouldn’t watch TV.”
Before Boudreau put himself on the receiving end of that parental judgment, he doled some out. With back-to-back games at Toronto on Wednesday and at Montreal on Thursday, he skated his players hard in a one-hour practice, trying to refocus a team that cannot seem to concentrate for an entire game.
Two lifeless periods Monday doomed the Wild to a 5-3 defeat at Boston. That earned it a harsh video session to dissect its mistakes, followed by high-tempo, end-to-end drills repeated over and over. The lesson: With three games to go on this road trip, Boudreau will not settle for anything less than unstinting effort, viewing that as the key to smoothing out the Wild’s inconsistency.
“I always think of it as parenting, and how I would do it with my own kids,” said Boudreau, who grew up in Toronto and played 134 games for the Maple Leafs. “If they weren’t doing what you wanted them to, how would you react?
“Somebody said to me [Tuesday], ‘You should make it fun again.’ And I’m going, ‘No. This is not a country club.’ The bottom line is, we have to work hard if we want to win — because every night, there are 20 guys that want to beat us. And if we don’t outwork them, our talent doesn’t mean a thing.”
The Wild is mature enough to understand that, and to regret the high cost of not following through. In Tuesday’s serious, physically demanding practice, the players did many of the things that were lacking in Monday’s game, and in others this season. They skated hard to the net, forechecked vigorously, wrestled for the puck and played diligent defense.
In short, they practiced like a team as disappointed in its results as its coach is. Boudreau did not hold back after Monday’s loss, the Wild’s third in four games. He said he was embarrassed to see his team standing still and being passive in the first and second periods, outplayed by a patched-together Bruins lineup.
The players were embarrassed, too, by continuing a pattern of underperforming.
“I just thought we got deflated, and that’s not acceptable any time,” forward Eric Staal said. “You’ve got to stay the course and stay with your game plan.
“It’s going to be up to us to find our way out of it. Each of us individually has to be better and be mentally stronger, to prepare for anything that’s going to happen through the course of a game. We’ve got a lot of hockey coming up, so we’ve got to find it quick.”
For the Wild to move up from the bottom of the Central Division standings, it will take more than consistent effort. Boudreau said “people aren’t doing their jobs” after Monday’s loss, pointing out that the Wild must play with intelligence as well as energy.
Several players have stressed the need to concentrate on fundamentals.
To Boudreau, that means eliminating turnovers at the blue line and keeping dump-ins away from the goalie.
“Make simple plays simple,” he said, repeating a slogan he often writes on the whiteboard in the locker room. “If you play the game the right way, you usually win.”
That will be the message Wednesday against Toronto, and as the trip continues at Montreal and Philadelphia.
Forward Nino Niederreiter said it comes down to each player doing what he does best, and doing it with a gusto that will please both Boudreau and his mom.
“We have to make sure we bring our working boots [Wednesday],” Niederreiter said. “That’s where it starts.”