When one or two power-play goals could have changed the complexion of the Wild’s first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks last spring, throwing up a series goose egg tends to gnaw at a coach.
Mike Yeo is looking for an improvement from the power play this season, and he didn’t have to look far for help. In addition to his duties as adviser to the hockey operations department, Andrew Brunette also will be the Wild’s new power-play consultant.
The former Wild scorer’s dual title is probably too long for the nameplate on his office door.
“My business card will be a two-card that won’t fit in anybody’s wallet,” Brunette with a laugh.
Brunette, 40, will continue to scout games, conduct projects for General Manager Chuck Fletcher and take side trips to Des Moines, where he’ll work with the Wild’s American Hockey League players.
But in Minnesota, Brunette will help Yeo with the power play, including taking the ice to work with the power-play units.
“He’s an invaluable resource,” Yeo said of Brunette, who was on the ice for more power-play goals (216) than any other player in Wild history. “Our power play had the opportunity to be a lot better last year than it was. We were sixth in the league in total power-play shots on goal. That tells you we’re just not doing enough to score goals.
“There are things Bruno can help us with to generate more shots, to generate more quality shots, to teach us different times to take pucks to the net, different positions to be in front of the net that only a guy with that kind of experience can teach.”
Of Brunette’s 114 career power-play goals, 55 came with the Wild. His specialty was net-front presence, an area Yeo feels the Wild must improve.
During Yeo’s first year as Wild coach, the Wild’s power play ranked 27th in the NHL, clicking at 15.1 percent. Last season, it improved to 16th (17.9 percent) — bizarrely second on the road at 23.5 percent and 28th at home at 13.2 percent.
Brunette, who retired after 16 NHL seasons in February, watched the Wild play from up top last season and doesn’t plan dramatic changes. He plans to meet with Wild players like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville to kick around ideas.
“I’m looking forward to talking to all those guys because you want to put guys into positions where they can be successful and play to their strengths,” Brunette said.
Koivu, who despite ranking fourth in Wild history with 36 power-play goals and first with 109 power-play assists, didn’t score a power-play goal last season. While the coaches will talk to Koivu about shooting more, Yeo said the Wild must do a better job designing a power play that puts Koivu in more threatening areas to shoot.
“I’ve played with Mikko. He can score on the power play, no doubt,” Brunette said. “It’s something I’ll have to talk to him about and see what he thinks and tweak into what we believe can help him. But I’m not worried about Mikko. … I think not scoring last year was an aberration, and I’m sure he’s put some thought into it, too.”
No NHL player has more power-play goals than Heatley’s 139 since he entered the league in 2001-02. He sustained a season-ending shoulder injury April 3, and the Wild scored five power-play goals in 17 games without him.
“Heater doesn’t get nearly enough respect,” Yeo said. “Hopefully seeing him out, people now realize how important he is to our team — big body and a goal scorer and a guy who has an all-around presence in a game.”
Assistant coach Darryl Sydor used to run the power play, but Yeo said handing the reins to Brunette will free up Sydor to do more one-on-one work with players.
“He’s really strong at that, and I felt having the power play took that away from Syd,” Yeo said.