The coach says he will employ the neutral zone trap -- reviled by fans but used by almost every NHL team -- but promises an aggressive version.
EDMONTON, ALBERTA - When Mike Yeo got the job as Wild coach this summer, he began dialing his NHL friends to do some digging on the neutral zone.
He had one question: Which team was the toughest to generate scoring chances against?
The common answer: the New Jersey Devils, and not the pre-New Year's Devils, but the post-New Year's Devils -- the version that nearly made a miraculous run to the playoffs after Jacques Lemaire arrived back on the scene.
Yes, the Jacques Lemaire Trap was back -- only a reinvented, more aggressive trap than Lemaire even used during his eight-year tenure in Minnesota.
In the irony of all ironies, it's Lemaire's latest version of the aggressive neutral-zone forecheck that Yeo will deploy as the Wild coach and the one he unveiled during his exhibition debut behind the Wild's bench Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
"Now when I say trap, you're not going to see a team where five guys are just backing up," Yeo said. "Like, look at our team last year in Houston. I mean, how many people would say we were a boring team to watch? We trapped in the neutral zone, but we were aggressive in how we did it."
And before you start freaking out, let's be clear: The Wild is not returning to the trap. The Wild never stopped trapping.
During Todd Richards' two seasons as coach, the Wild trapped. In fact, Yeo guesses 90 percent of the NHL traps in some way, whether it be the passive 1-2-2 Richards coached, the aggressive 1-2-2 Yeo will coach or even the Tampa Bay Lightning's much-publicized 1-3-1 during last season's playoffs.
"Some teams, like Phoenix and Boston, their [first forward] comes to a complete stop where our first guy takes more of an angle," Yeo said. "We're going to be skating forward with a lot more speed and pressure, but in the end, it is a trap."
But you know what?
"Detroit traps. Pittsburgh traps," Yeo said.
Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck said there's a lot more details to Yeo's neutral-zone forecheck than the one Richards coached.
"The neutral-zone system from 30 teams in the league is pretty much the same. It's the details within that can be different," Clutterbuck said. "The problem last year was we were getting too separated in the neutral zone, and these days to keep teams from coming through with speed, you have to stay compact and move together to pressure the right areas. That's what we're doing now."
The objective of the trap is simple: To invite the opposition to skate into an area where they run out of room and options.
Once that turnover occurs, the Wild wants to aggressively attack.
"We want to play a real structured but a very aggressive game," Yeo said. "If we're doing our job, whatever zone we're in, we should be putting them under pressure and hopefully arriving there with a bad temper.
"If we're playing well, if you're watching us at home, whether we're tracking back or playing in the defensive zone, if you pause your TV, you should see five Minnesota Wild guys and hopefully two or three of the opposition."
The key this preseason is to get to the point where Yeo's system becomes habit and not part of a thought process.
"That should come when we get down more to our team," Clutterbuck said.
And the Wild plans to cut down to a more manageable roster size after it plays four games in five nights through Saturday.
Yeo said it doesn't matter what system any team plays if there's not a battle level every night and a commitment from a team to buy in.
"It takes a mindset and a pride where we want to grind them down, we want to have the puck hopefully 70 percent of the game, and by the time the third period comes around, the other team can't keep up with us, they're too tired from trying to defend and they're frustrated," Yeo said.
"That's the objective of our system. The more you have the puck, the easier it is to defend."
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