A Manny down

With his teammates long gone, Manny Fernandez unstrapped his pads, unlaced his skates, untaped his wrists and collapsed deep into a locker room stall Saturday morning.

With his teammates long gone, Manny Fernandez unstrapped his pads, unlaced his skates, untaped his wrists and collapsed deep into a locker room stall Saturday morning.

Fernandez's morning skate had turned into a draining afternoon skate when goaltending coach Bob Mason stayed late to shoot puck after puck at the struggling 32-year-old netminder.

After an exceptional opening month in which he soared to the top of the NHL with a 1.57 goals-against average and .948 save percentage, Fernandez's confidence has been shaken dramatically. In his past eight starts, Fernandez is 1-5 with a 4.18 GAA and .866 save percentage.

"This team needs a guy that's going to make the big save at the right time, and I don't do that," Fernandez said as he stared at the floor.

If Fernandez's mental state wasn't good Saturday morning, it was at an all-time low after Saturday night's 5-3 loss to Columbus.


Fernandez was a postgame psychological mess.

First, Fernandez's ego took a hit when he began Saturday's game by backing up Niklas Backstrom for the third game in a row and fifth time in eight games.

Then, Fernandez was called into relief in the second period with the Wild trailing 2-1. A little more than two minutes after Pierre-Marc Bouchard tied the score early in the third, Fernandez allowed three goals -- two in a span of 2 minutes, 20 seconds.

"Everything I touch right now turns to ...," Fernandez said, using an expletive. "Nothing I can do."

Asked if he thought Saturday's relief appearance was an opportunity to snap out of his funk, Fernandez, again sprinkling expletives into his words, said, "I'm not thinking ahead like that. I'm not seeing it that way. ... It's going to be a [expletive] mountain if I do. I'm just trying to take one step and get my game back, and it's obviously not tonight."

The last couple of weeks have been humbling for the man who signed a three-year, $13 million extension to be the Wild's No. 1 goalie.

He was hurt by coach Jacques Lemaire's decision not to play him in his hometown of Montreal on Wednesday. Recently, Lemaire has hinted at Fernandez loafing in practice and been worried about Fernandez's on-ice "demeanor."

Off the ice, Fernandez has been surly.


After Saturday morning's grueling workout, he showed a vulnerable side.

"You care for the game so much and for the team also," Fernandez said. "Sometimes it doesn't show. I know that. But I do. And the most important thing [to me] is not to let my team down.

"But I'm doing that. And sometimes I feel bad for them if I'm not up to the challenge. I'm not giving my teammates confidence, and we start playing on our heels."

Fernandez said fatigue earlier this month snowballed into a slide.

"Instead of me coming up with the big save, they come up with the big goal," he said. "The only way to get all of that back is through hard work and to punish[the heck] out of me, you know?"

After Saturday's game, it's clear he's punishing himself mentally. The Wild, decimated by injuries, are sinking in the West and better be concerned about having a goalie with shattered confidence.

"[Goaltending] is 90 percent mental," Fernandez said. "I don't know when [my next start's] going to be. Unless everything goes well and everything is nice, you don't think good stuff. We all knew there were going to be ups and downs this year, but when they come, all of a sudden it's hard and you put everything back in perspective. It's tough.

"I figure by stopping the more pucks in practice and trying the best I can, hopefully everything comes back to my natural self."

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