In need of a break, Wild agree: 'Basketball can have Christmas Day'
TAMPA, Fla. — Simply put, the Wild look tired, mentally and physically, right now.
A somber locker room following Saturday, Dec. 23's discouraging 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning — the fourth loss in five games — hammered home this all-too-obvious point.
Luckily, the suddenly reeling Wild are getting a league-mandated, three-day break right when they need it most.
"I think Christmas break comes at a good time for us," goaltender Alex Stalock said. "We have three days to go home and rest and get away from the game a little bit. It will be good to see family. The guys with kids will be able to hang out with their kids. Just take our mind off hockey for a little bit. Sometimes that's the best thing."
"Yeah," winger Daniel Winnik added. "I think even though our schedule has been soft game-wise, travel-wise, it's been a little tough. Hopefully guys can rest up over this break."
As has become customary in the league over the past four decades, everything stops for a few days around Christmas.
While other leagues have keenly capitalized on increased eyeballs around the holidays with the NBA, for example, dominating the Christmas Day lineup, the NHL has generally avoided scheduling games around that time.
In fact, the last NHL game played on Christmas Day was in 1971, between the Los Angeles Kings and California Golden Seals.
No doubt the players and coaches appreciate being able to spend some time with their families.
"I think Christmas is a special time of year," Stalock said. "We have a busy schedule throughout the year, so to have three days to spend time with immediate family and be able to relax means a lot. I think it's good for this league to do that."
"I don't know how the family would enjoy it if we were playing on Christmas Day," defenseman Jared Spurgeon added. "It's very nice of (the league) to let us get the three-day break there."
There have been efforts by the league to increase casual viewership, namely with the NHL Winter Classic, an outdoor game played on or around New Year's Day every year. It has drawn massive interest as perhaps the league's premier event of the regular season.
Which raises the question: Is the NHL missing out by not having games on Christmas?
"I don't think so," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said with a smile. "No, basketball can have Christmas Day."
It appears the Wild avoided disaster with winger Nino Niederreiter.
"His foot is in a (walking) boot for a couple days," Boudreau said. "He should be OK."
Niederreiter left Friday's 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers in the first period with a lower-body injury. He appeared to injure himself trying to keep a clearing attempt in the offensive zone. Although it looked like a harmless play, he skated gingerly to the bench soon after, unable to put any weight on his left leg.