Greetings. Kent Youngblood here; Mr. Russo spend much of the day writing his must-read Sunday stories.
I know it's early, but the Wild woke up this morning as the NHL's most efficient power-play team, converting on nearly 44 percent of their chances. Matt Cullen and Mikko Koivu are tied for the league lead with four power play points. So, of course, I chose to focus on the penalty kill and the wild's improvement on defense in general, for tomorrow's story.
I think the job the Wild did killing penalties in the first period Thursday against Edmonton is what allowed them to win the game later on. On Friday coach Todd Richards gave assistant coach Rick Wilson a lot of credit for the penalty kill and for the play of the defensemen. Of course Wilson is well-known for his ability to work with defensemen, and that was a big reason the Wild brought him in this season.
His influence can already be seen on the blue line, where the Wild defensemen are becoming much choosier about when to jump into the play. Wilson is teaching them a set of reads -- which include seeing if there is a teammate ready to fill the hole if a blue-liner decides to pinch in on a play. Wilson has also had a hand in a penalty kill unit that is playing a bit more aggressively than last season. it sure helps having Matt Cullen and John Madden to help out in that area; Richards can and does rotate four sets of forwards on the penalty kill, and there is always someone on the ice who can win a faceoff; the Wild won nine of 12 faceoffs on the penalty kill Wednesday night.
Some other tidbits from Friday's practice:
--Richards felt the team was too loose early in practice. So he stopped a drill and let them know it. Loudly.
--Brad Staubitz managed to tie Cal Clutterbuck for the team lead with four hits last night. And this in just 6-plus minutes. Richards said he likes what he sees in that department from the big winger.
--Both Andrew Brunette (hip) and Marek Zidlicky (groin), who were questionable before Thursday's game but played, were fine Friday. Both practiced.
That's about it. Have a good night.