ST. PAUL, Minn. — Pierre-Marc Bouchard won’t blame his injuries, a lack of playing time or not having the benefit of a full training camp when he, more than most, could have used one.
Those are excuses, he said Saturday, dismissing the subject.
“That is not an issue,” Bouchard said.
But Bouchard is struggling, that he knows. After missing the final 41 games of last season because of yet another concussion, after once again going through the process of getting back on the ice, Bouchard started this season strong. He scored a goal in an opening night victory over Colorado, and he assisted on the only goal the following night in a 1-0 victory over Dallas.
He was a plus-2 after two games and everybody was saying Butch was back.
But since then Bouchard, whose game is based on speed and attacking the zone, has struggled. He has only one goal, no assists and ten shots on goal since. As a result, Wild coach Mike Yeo demoted Bouchard to the fourth line against Nashville on Saturday. And while Yeo said Bouchard responded with a better game, Bouchard again was on the fourth line Monday when the Wild played at Calgary.
And while Bouchard won’t use it as an excuse, Yeo said he believes Bouchard is struggling to acclimate himself after missing the last half of last season, then sitting through the lockout.
“There has to be some understanding on both sides that it might take him a little while to get his game,” Yeo said. “But at the same time, at this time of year, we’re forced to put the best lineup on the ice, one that gives us the best chance to win.”
Bouchard, meanwhile, contends he feels good. But he admits to having confidence issues.
“Physically I feel fine,” he said. “It’s just the actual game itself, the confidence level. The play I’m able to make, I don’t make it as much as I used to. It’s confidence, I guess.”
And, perhaps, pressure.
The Wild is the only team Bouchard ever has played for. But he is in the final year of his contract, has had concussion issues and has a future that is anything but set.
Could that pressure be mounting, too?
Bouchard dismissed that notion, too.
“The last three years have been pretty tough,” he said. “Right now I’m not thinking about a contract. I just want to get out there and play some good hockey, win some games, make the club better. I’m trying to stay positive.”
The season is still young, and teammates Devin Setoguchi and Mikael Granlund played their way out of a slumps.
“We’ll continue to work with him,” Yeo said of Bouchard. “But it’s one of those things where he has to find a way to work his way up, the same way (Setoguchi) did.”
“I think the key is, first of all, when you’re struggling you have to stay positive,” Bouchard said. “That’s the first thing. And you have to keep working hard, and maybe try to simplify your game a little bit. You simplify it, then you slowly gain confidence, shift after shift. Then you feel better and make more plays.”
Yeo said Bouchard is working hard. At moments Saturday, he saw flashes of what makes Bouchard effective.
“The way he was attacking with speed off the rush,” Yeo said. “Making plays on entries. I was encouraged to see him shooting pucks on power plays. If he can be aggressive and put pucks to the net, it will open up a lot more plays. You could see some of those things (Saturday).”
When Bouchard is effective, the Wild usually win. Minnesota is 26-7-3 in games Bouchard has scored a goal during since the start of the 2008-09 season.
Said Bouchard: “All I know is that it can be better. I know I can get better, that’s for sure.”