As Mike Yeo is known to do, a work day was disguised as competition this morning down at the X as the Wild went through a long, rigorous on-ice session in preparation for Thursday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.
Today was all about battle drills under the guise of competition. Early, players were laughing and having a good time during a fast, tough shinny game with the nets at each blue line.
Few laughs later as exhaustion set in during a bunch of tough, fast battle drills.
But this practice was to be expected after Sunday's travel/off day.
With two more practice days ahead, the next two days will be all about the tactical, finer points of the Wild's game -- particularly its power play. Coach Mike Yeo wanted to work on it today, but with power-play forwards Dany Heatley and Guillaume Latendresse both missing practice with nagging groin injuries (as did Greg Zanon), he put it off until the next two days.
All three players are considered day-to-day and with no game until Thursday, the Wild felt it wise to give each another day off the ice. We'll see, however, if they practice Tuesday. Zanon and Latendresse were walking gingerly at the tail end of the road trip and each missed Saturday's game in Vancouver, so it wouldn't shock me if we don't see them.
It sounds like Heatley's been playing with his injury for awhile, which isn't a shock if you know Dany Heatley. He played 80 games last season and definitely played hurt. The two years prior, he missed no games.
As I wrote in today's paper and will write more specifically about in Tuesday's, the Wild's power play is killing them, and it works hand in hand with its poor execution in the faceoff circle.
One update on both, through Saturday's games and Sunday's one game, the Wild's power play ranking has dropped from 25th to 27th, its faceoff winning percentage has dropped from 22nd to 25th.
Yeo reiterated today that he thinks the power play's lack of success has nothing to do with personnel. Nevertheless, it sounds like we'll see some personnel and position changes. Matt Cullen appears all but certain to move back to the point, where he was so good in the first few months of last season when the Wild's power play was one of the top ones in the league. No word yet on who comes off, but I'd assume Pierre-Marc Bouchard goes to the half boards.
Also, the Wild doesn't score greasy goals. Almost none this season. "We need more of a dirty-goal mentality."
Its net presence on the power play has been abysmal, especially in Edmonton and Vancouver. I think we'll start to see Kyle Brodziak back on the power play. The type of goal from in front of the net that he scored in Vancouver is the type of goal the Wild's been lacking and the type of goal Brodziak's scored his first two years in Minnesota. He's willing to go to the net.
One reason Yeo hasn't put Brodziak on the power play yet is that first shift after power plays. With different forwards from different lines mixing and matching on both units, Yeo has kept Brodziak off as not to affect another line. But as Yeo said today, "We have to do what we have to do to score goals [on the power play]."
The faceoffs are killing them, too. You can't spend the first 35 seconds every shift chasing the puck because you can't win a draw. Vancouver went 4 for 4 on draws on their power play Saturday and went 2 for 3 on the power play. The Wild went 4 for 10 on draws on its power play, and its power play connected for no goals on four tries (0 for last 18 last five games since Oct. 11 at Ottawa).
The Wild should be better. Mikko Koivu, Cullen and Brodziak are good drawmen, but they need help, too. It was absurd, Yeo said, how often pucks were laying there for wingers the other day after faceoffs and they were "asleep" at the switch. I brought this up specifically on my postgame blog, particularly on Cullen draws with Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck.
Yeo said the Wild has compiled clips to show the team's wingers during video session this week that it's not just the fault of the centermen.
One interesting moment during practice today came when Koivu was hit up high over his huge gash on his chin by, I believe, Brad Staubitz. The captain flipped out, snapping his stick in half, throwing it down the runway, then storming off the ice, sitting on the bench and slamming the door so hard, every water bottle fell. Poor trainer John Worley then had to work on his cut. He's OK.
"I think, he's just, he's not happy. I pretended like I didn't see it. I stayed away," Yeo said, laughing.
I wanted to send my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of NHL off-ice official Gordy Lee. Gordy died Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. at the age of 79. He had a heart attack an hour after working the Oct. 15 Wild-Red Wings game. He had been hospitalized ever since.
Lee was an NHL off-ice official for Wild games since its 2000 inception -- serving mostly as the timekeeper. He spent 26 years as an off-ice official working North Stars games, part of which he was the crew supervisor.
He was a longtime on-ice referee, too. In the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Soviet Union, Lee was honored to be one of four American officials to work the first four games. He officiated the 1976 first Canada Cup tournament, which is now the World Cup.
He officiated a number of high school state tournaments and was a WCHA ref from 1975-80.
"He was top-notch," said Barry Fritz, the supervisor for the 15 NHL off-ice officials who work Wild home games. "The guy could do it all. He was super-smart, super-reliable. He never ever asked for a game off. He was a heck of a family man and just a great person. We all will miss him very dearly."
Lee is survived by a large family, including wife Donna, daughters Lisa and Susie and sons John and Danny.