Zoned in: Wild stays on defensive (end)

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2013 - 12:13 AM

Friday's loss found players "passing the pressure" and having trouble moving the puck into an attacking mode.

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Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom tried, and failed, to stop Anaheim’s Kyle Palmeiri from scoring Friday. Most of the game was played in the Wild zone.

Photo: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

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GLENDALE, ARIZ. - It's a vicious cycle that is hard to break without proper execution, composure and effort.

Everybody who watched the Wild's 3-1 loss in Anaheim on Friday night knows the team generated almost no sustained pressure offensively. But the reason is because the Wild couldn't execute at all coming out of its own end.

It's a simple equation: If a group of five players spends an entire shift scrambling around the defensive zone, by the time they finally escape trouble, they have to go for a line change while the opposing team regroups and returns for an attack. Then the next group spends its shift defending as well.

This happens over and over and over again. Ultimately, fatigue sets in, and nothing goes right.

That pretty much sums up the loss to the Ducks and what coach Mike Yeo tried to correct in the first of two days of practice in Arizona before the Wild plays the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night.

"Our execution [coming out of defensive zone coverage] was awful," Yeo said. "There's a good lesson in that. When we're playing well, that's what we're making the other team feel. The longer you spend in your own zone, the harder it is to get out because you don't have the gas to take that two, three extra strides to make that extra play. I thought our wall play was not good at all. It was not one person. ... It was all over the place."

Before the Ducks' tying goal, rookie Jonas Brodin tried to pass the puck to Zach Parise at the opposite blue line. It was turned over for a goal. Parise was late in an exhausting shift when the first line, for a rarity Friday, hemmed in the Ducks at their end.

Yeo said Parise would have had to dump the puck and change anyway, so Brodin needed to be cognizant of that and simply pass to his open partner, Ryan Suter.

On the Ducks' go-ahead goal, Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner chased Teemu Selanne behind the net, which left Kyle Palmieri alone in front.

"I know one thing: We cannot have two defensemen going to chase a guy below the goal line," Yeo said.

Yeo found players "passing the pressure" or problems "on to somebody else," and by doing that, "the problem never ends."

"I thought we had some below-our-standard efforts, and that's unacceptable," he said. "We can't accept that ever."

While the big, skilled Ducks forwards swarmed the Wild in the Minnesota end, the Wild didn't do the same in the Ducks' end. "You're not going to create scoring chances in the first five seconds of a shift," said Kyle Brodziak, goalless this season. "It's after you break the team down in their D zone, and we haven't done a good enough job of that yet.

"The best teams in the league are the ones who hold on to the puck the best."

One problem might be size. The Wild is one of the smaller teams up front, but Yeo said that shouldn't be an excuse.

"When we're playing a certain way, I think we probably look a little bigger and faster," Yeo said. "[Friday] we didn't look big and we didn't look fast. We've got guys who can do it. You don't have to be a 6-foot-4 killer. Everybody can bump into somebody, and everybody can hang on to a puck."

Yeo said the coaching staff spent a lot of time between Friday's game and Saturday's practice talking about potential line changes for Monday, and that includes the top line of Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, which has been unproductive the past three games.

"There's some things that we definitely have to think about from top to bottom as far as what we need, what the right mix is and how we can be at our best," Yeo said.

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