SAN JOSE, Calif. – The surest way for the Wild to reach its ultimate goal is to keep finding an extra half-goal every night.
A 2014 increase in scoring is the biggest reason Minnesota started the new year 8-3, moving into eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race, after ending 2013 on the outside looking in. Don't rewrite the franchise record books just yet, but an average of 2.63 goals per game in this mini-surge is more than welcome after the team averaged 2.19 through the first 42 games.
On the whole, that still leaves Minnesota 27th in the NHL at 2.28 (and particularly lacking on the road, with only 46 goals in 25 games heading into Saturday's game at San Jose to open a four-game trip).
In hopes of improving those numbers, one point of emphasis is the power play. After a disappointing showing in that regard Thursday — when the Wild managed only one shot during a full two-minute 5-on-3 against Chicago — the team spent plenty of time at practice Friday working on the man advantage.
Zach Parise, upon his return from a 14-game absence, was in an unusual spot at the top of the power play Thursday. Coach Mike Yeo said that was due to the solid play of Mikael Granlund in Parise's normal place closer to the net, as well as Parise's shooting ability.
"When he was out of the lineup, the Washington game and also the Philly game, we had gotten a couple of 5-on-3 goals and thought that Granny had done a nice job in that spot where Zach typically plays," Yeo said. "So we thought let's see if Zach, obviously a shooter, if we can create something there. So I don't know if that's something we would do going forward or not. It's an option. Certainly it didn't work [Thursday]."
Yeo praises Zucker
To integrate Parise back into the lineup, Jason Zucker moved down to the fourth line. Yeo described the move as a challenge to Zucker. After one game, consider it challenge accepted.
"We're going to try to round out his game a little bit more. It's not only up to him," Yeo said. "We talk about him growing in the defensive part and becoming more than a guy who can go out and maybe create a chance or two. We want him to become an effective player in every type of game in every situation, so we're going to try to help him grow with that. I thought he did a really good job."
•Darcy Kuemper made his seventh consecutive start in goal Saturday night. It was his 10th appearance of the season in all, making him the third rookie goaltender in franchise history to reach double digits in appearances.
•The Sharks backup goalie Alex Stalock should be familiar to Minnesota fans. The former standout at South St. Paul High School and Minnesota Duluth has been outstanding as a rookie, going 7-2 with a 1.62 goals-against average and recording shutouts in his past two starts, including a 1-0 victory against Winnipeg on Thursday.