Watching itself in top gear, Wild sees a blur

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 10, 2011 - 12:20 PM

Coach Mike Yeo praised his team's speed, along with its commitment to pushing full tilt ahead.

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Wild forward Matt Cullen watched his goal off Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason in the first period Saturday night.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Mike Yeo talks all the time about playing fast hockey.

So in an attempt to impart his wish one final time before the Wild's season opener Saturday night against Columbus, the Wild rookie coach added a little wrinkle to his pre-scout video session.

"I saw glimpses of it in the preseason. We saw it in parts, so we put together a video collection of a lot of the good stuff we did," Yeo said. "When you see it all together, the one thing I said to the boys is, 'Look how fast we look.'

"When we're going bang, bang, bang, and we're going right at them, if we're playing the game the right way, if we're executing the right way, then we should look fast."

The Wild looked fast -- very fast -- in a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jackets.

And when the word "fast," is used, it's not only to describe how fast the Wild was skating. It's to describe how quickly it pounced on Columbus in all three zones. The Wild was in the face of Blue Jackets players immediately, giving them little time and space.

The Wild hopes to continue this pace on its first road trip Monday afternoon and Tuesday night against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators.

"Now what we need is it to become instinct, where it becomes repetition and habit," Yeo said. "When we take the half-second of thinking out of it, we'll be even faster."

Yeo often uses Dany Heatley as an example of a hockey player who plays a fast game. Throughout the preseason, Yeo made note of it, and he did so again Sunday.

Against the Blue Jackets, Heatley scored the winning goal and an assist, but he was always driving forward, always skating north.

"You can take the fastest guy in the world, but if he wants to go east-west all the time, anybody can catch him," Yeo said. "When we talk about that north mentality, we do it to build our speed into our game, like how quickly can we get from our end down to their end.

"When everybody has that mindset, then you just play faster as a team."

Wild captain Mikko Koivu said the pregame video montage exhilarated the Wild and hit home perfectly.

"It didn't matter if it was the defensive zone or the neutral zone or the offensive zone, we did the things we're supposed to do," Koivu said. "The challenge we have when you do a system like that is to do it not just one game, not just one period. You're going to have ups and downs, but if we can learn to keep it steady, then we can be satisfied."

Yeo was particularly impressed with the Wild's first line, not only because Heatley and Devin Setoguchi scored, but because of how good they were defensively. They were aggressive, physical and not "high-risk."

It means Yeo won't have to chase matchups in games. He's comfortable going top line vs. top line.

"I had a really good idea of how good Mikko was without the puck and how good he was defensively and his battle level, but as a line, the three of them, it just grows my confidence in their ability to play against anybody," Yeo said.

The pace Saturday was impressive. But it was one win.

There are 81 games to go.

Koivu, never one to get too high or too low, said: "I still think we'll do a better job of it. I think overall after training camp, our game is where it should be right now. That's a good sign. The win gives us confidence that we can play like that, but it's one game and now we have a big challenge on the road."

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