Charlie Coyle's first full season with the Minnesota Wild hasn't gone poorly. It hasn't gone as well as some expected either.
Inconsistent would be a fair assessment, although the forward's game got better as the Stanley Cup Playoffs crept closer.
The Wild trails the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series, with Coyle stepping up offensively heading into Game 4 Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30pm ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, FS-N, FS-WI, ALT).
After scoring one goal during a 23-game stretch between Jan. 12 and March 20, Wild coach Mike Yeo met with Coyle to relay a simple message: Play physical. It was an important part of his game Coyle knew he had strayed from.
"He said to stay simple to my game and work to my strengths," Coyle said.
Coyle (6-foot-3, 221 pounds) said the stress of not scoring became almost unbearable. It crept into the quality and style of his play, which made things worse.
"There are games where you don't score, not that points are everything, but you want to help contribute," Coyle said. "I was playing a top-two [line] role and wasn't scoring, so you think something is wrong and you get away from things a little bit."
Yeo's advice was followed by a sudden turnaround March 22 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Coyle scored against the Red Wings and in the two games that followed, and he had three points on a 2-1-1 road trip at the end of March. Over the final 12 games of the regular season, Coyle scored five goals and had five assists, one-third of his 30 points this season.
He's maintained that hot streak in the postseason, scoring one goal in each of the first two games against the Avalanche, two Wild losses.
"Many coaches have told me either take a hit or get hit, get yourself physically engaged in the game right away," Yeo said. "You understand that it's going to be that type of game. He's just one of those types of guys. Whether it's him getting hit or him making a play along the wall and the defenseman comes down and hits him, whether it's him finishing a check or just being strong on the puck and holding a guy off, that's his type of game. That's the type of game that he needs to play, and he understands that."
Coyle, chosen by the San Jose Sharks with the 28th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, has found a comfortable spot in the Wild lineup, playing his best hockey of the season at right wing. A center in college at Boston University and in juniors with the St. John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Coyle shifted between those positions last season and again this season. Injuries to Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund during the regular season forced Coyle inside. But it wasn't the move to center that slowed Coyle, it was often the uncertainty.
"It's less thinking. There was a point there where I was switching almost every game," Coyle said. "Not that it's a problem, but it's a lot of thinking. Each position is a little different. Just being at a position for a while, things come naturally again."
In the end, it doesn't matter who is next to Coyle as long as he is playing his game.
"This is just the evolution of a young player and just kind of learning his identity, learning the little things that he needs to bring day in and day out to be a successful player," Yeo said.
Coyle said, "You have to focus on the process, not the results. If I play the right way, the little things will come."
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