Ryan Suter, Mike Yeo on same page as Minnesota Wild look to continue momentum

That gutsy 2-1 win earlier this week against the Chicago Blackhawks won't matter if the Minnesota Wild can't use the moment to really change their season.

Which is why a home date with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night is just as big a game, and all games will be moving forward.

"We have to have that same mindset we had in Chicago, where we all bear down in all three zones and do what we have to win,'' star blueliner Ryan Suter said Wednesday. "I think that mindset kind of got lost before. Hopefully now we're back on track.''

Hopefully for the Wild, an emotional start to the week, followed by a huge win over the reigning Cup champs, is the start of something grand. Not just a reactionary blip.

"It was a good win. But we have to keep pushing here,'' Wild coach Mike Yeo cautioned over the phone Wednesday.

It was Yeo and Suter who dominated the headlines Monday after the coach ripped into his players at practice, and the All-Star defenseman responded afterward in the media with comments that quickly caught fire on social media. This is the world we live in now, you see.

"It really got blown out of proportion,'' Suter said.

What Suter said was that he questioned having Jonas Brodin, a fellow left-handed shot, as his defense partner at practice that day, which normally is a sign of the pairings for the next game, because Suter said he is more effective in a lefty-righty pairing.

"It was nothing against Brodin, I love Brodes, he's an awesome guy, great teammate, a really good player and person," Suter said. "All I was trying to say is that it's easier to play a lefty with a righty.''

Then Suter paused before adding, "Maybe I should just be a little less vocal, but I felt strongly about that. And it really got blown out of proportion, I think.''

To be fair, Suter isn't alone in that thinking. Take Mike Babcock, for example. It killed him over the years in Detroit when he didn't have the lefty-righty combo among his defense pairings.

And at the Sochi Olympics, Babcock was adamant that's how his three defense pairings would go, which is part of the reason a talented defenseman such as P.K. Subban was mostly a spectator at those Games. Righties Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo dressed ahead of Subban, because Babcock didn't want anyone playing on the wrong side.

Whether it's for the transition game or other aspects, there is certainly a more natural flow to having a lefty alongside a righty on the back end.

In the NHL, teams don't always have that luxury. It's why right-handed defensemen are in such demand. And in the case of the Wild, three of their top four minute-eaters on the blue line are lefties (which is why current New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic would be such a great fit there, but I digress ...).

In any case, the story certainly made headlines for a day. But it did not rattle the head coach.

"There was a time when maybe I would have been really upset by something like that, but I've learned a lot over the years," Yeo said. "No. 1 is that I've learned how you have to know your athletes. No. 2 is that everybody is different.''

Former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Craig Patrick told Yeo years ago never to judge a player's initial reaction after you tell him something. Some players will nod their heads right away, but it's in one ear and out the other for the message. Other players might give a confrontational reaction or one you don't like, but those are often the players for whom it sinks in the most.

"Ryan is one of those guys, he's an honest guy,'' Yeo said. "That's one of the things that I love about coaching him. If there's something that he disagrees with or feels differently about, he's going to tell me, and I love that. I want that as a coach. But then if I say, 'This is why we're going to do it and this is what we're going to do,' he'll go out and do it as good as, if not better than, anybody.''

Suter played a whale of a game in Chicago, even scoring the game winner in the third period, and player and coach cleared the air earlier in the day.

"I support Yeosy, he's a really good coach," Suter said emphatically. "And I mean that. I'm not blowing any smoke. He is a really good coach.''

Thing is, both the coach and the star defenseman share the same concern about the team: that the play to this point in the season -- not just during a late-November slump, but all season -- wasn't good enough for the standard they're trying to achieve this season.

The Wild are trying to get over the hump as an organization. It's not just about making the playoffs anymore -- although that's still no sure thing -- but about wanting to get to new heights and challenge for a championship.

"That's the biggest thing, we want to take the next step," Suter said. "And we know that the way we were playing, we're not going to take the next step. It's just frustrating for all of us, even for Yeosy and the coaches.''

Which was the point of why Yeo did his thing at practice Monday.

"I'm not saying we had a bad attitude, your attitude always comes from your beliefs, your attitude is always going to dictate your behavior and your play," Yeo said. "We needed a bit of an adjustment there. Because we were getting away with some things earlier in the season when everyone was healthy, we weren't winning games the way that we're going to have to win if we get to the playoffs.

"More than anything, it was a reality check that we needed.''

He wanted to rattle some cages, and he did. Where it goes from here will determine the rest of their season.

As for Suter, bless him for being one of the few players in this league who speaks his mind with the kind of raw honesty that's hard to come by.

"Yeah, well, it gets me in trouble,'' Suter said. "I don't like controversy. I don't like being the guy that everybody is talking about. I didn't mean it to come off like that.''

Either way, maybe the whole thing is just what the Wild needs.