Progress in 'process' becomes a hot topic in run of close games

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 24, 2011 - 2:15 PM

Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen are now hearing coach Mike Yeo demand more consistency.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune file

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Mike Yeo talks about the "process" all the time.

It is one of his coach-isms -- a word players also repeat like it's the Wild's mantra. Eight games into Yeo's tenure, the coach has made it abundantly clear it is impossible to simply snap his fingers and catapult the Wild to where he eventually wants it to be.

There is a "process" to getting there, steps that must be taken, and the big thing that can help accelerate the "process" is playing close, pressure-packed games when things are always on the line.

Well, as Dany Heatley says, "It seems like every game's been a one-goal game."

The 3-2-3 Wild has played six of them, going 2-1-3 in such situations. It has played in five overtime/shootout games in the past six (2-3).

"This is perfect. This is what you need," Yeo said after Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks. "You need games where the pressure's on the line and you have to be able to continue to focus and go out and execute and keep your composure.

"There are going to be moments in every game, it doesn't matter who you are, every team, you're going to have times where things are less than perfect out there. But how do you get back to your game? How do you respond from that? Do you let it get you so rattled that you get put on your heels, or does the next line go out and do things the right way?"

That's why in the third period Saturday, Yeo kept throwing the third line of rookie Brett Bulmer, veteran Kyle Brodziak and rookie Nick Johnson over the boards. The trio played more late 5-on-5 shifts than the second line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck.

With the Wild spending the majority of the third period in its own zone, Yeo had faith that the third line would spend time in the offensive zone.

"They had long shifts in there," Yeo said of the line. "They gave us a lot of momentum shifts. They were a line when we had shifts when things weren't going great, they would get down there and like we want to do, say, 'Hey guys, just relax, let's just get back to our game.' They did that pretty much shift after shift."

Johnson, a 25-year-old who was claimed off waivers last month from Pittsburgh and scratched the previous four games, particularly made the line work. His feet were constantly moving, he was strong on the puck and physical.

"I said to him in practice a couple days ago, 'I didn't realize how fast you are,' " Brodziak said. "He definitely showed his speed. You look at him, he's a big guy. He's strong. He does a lot of things well."

Special attention

Two areas Yeo said must improve are faceoffs and the power play.

The Wild has won 48.1 percent of its draws, ranking 22nd in the NHL. While the centers have to be better, Yeo said, wingers and defensemen have been slow to react.

The Wild's power play ranks 25th in the NHL, going 3-for-31 -- and zero for its past 18.

The play of power-play point men Jared Spurgeon and Bouchard has been subpar, and big-shooting Marek Zidlicky has no goals and one power-play assist.

After experimenting a little against Vancouver, Yeo made it sound like Cullen, who last season played the power-play point, will return there Thursday against Anaheim.

"When I look at our power play, we haven't scored a goal yet from the point," Yeo said. "You look where teams are scoring goals from. [Vancouver's] overtime goal was a goal from the point.

"Most of the goals scored against us killing penalties have been from point generating a secondary opportunity. We haven't had any of those yet. So we have to find a way to start getting shots from the point."

Leads are hard to hold

After going 25-0-1 last season, the Wild is 1-0-3 when leading after two periods.

"We're still not completely comfortable in those moments when the game's on the line playing in our own zone," Yeo said. "You can see we still get a little bit frantic sometimes, but we're not the only ones."

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