Wild practice is a big support group

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 19, 2011 - 1:26 AM

Mike Yeo sees areas the Wild can improve despite its excellent record, including puck support.

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Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom made a stick hand save of a third period shot on goal while Denver's Jay McClement and the Wild's Kris Fredheim (making his Wild debut) closed in Thursday.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Mike Yeo is good at this.

As players howled under the guise of another one of Yeo's fun tight-area practice games, the Wild actually got some quality work done Friday in Mendota Heights. The coaching staff constructed a shinny game with the true intention of helping the Wild support the puck better.

You see, the Wild may be tied for the second-most points in the NHL (25). Since Oct. 29, the Wild might be 8-2 with the most points in the league (16) and the fewest goals given up (1.5 a game).

But the Wild can be a lot better, Yeo says, and one area is puck support.

"It's not the responsibility of the guy, as far as I'm concerned, with the puck to find you," Yeo said. "You have to move to an area, you have to talk, you have to try to create a lane for him. That's what today was about."

And judging by the loud laughs, players had a ball Friday learning how to support the puck better.

The team that lost? The guys in white, which included Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu a mere 14 hours after the linemates helped create the late winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Colorado.

Much to the delight of teammates, the top-liners had to drag each player's sticks to the team bus. Setoguchi, the hero the night before, carried about 30 sticks himself.

Things seem to be coming together for the Wild, but as Yeo said, lots of work must still be done to get the Wild to where it wants to go.

Minnesota is a team relying heavily on great goaltending and solid defense. It ranks first in the NHL at 1.95 goals allowed per game. But the offense still ranks 26th at 2.21 goals a game.

Yet, the Wild keeps winning, especially in one-goal games (7-2-3, 12 of 19 games).

"I'd still like to see us improve upon as a team that aggressive mindset, like, 'Lets go!' " Yeo said. "But on the plus side, we're very comfortable playing in those games, too. A lot of teams would get rattled.

"We've played so many one-goal games, played in so many tight games, the guys are comfortable in those situations. There's a good belief every night we step on the ice that there's an opportunity to win a hockey game.

"We're doing a lot of good things. But I know with this group and the attitude we have, and the character and leadership that we have, we will continue to get better."

Recovery day

Winger Dany Heatley and defenseman Jared Spurgeon each missed Friday's practice for maintenance, Yeo said.

"We've had a lot of travel and games, so this was a get-what-you-need kind of day, and they needed a little rest," Yeo said.

With so many defensemen injured and Spurgeon missing, several folks were joking with assistant coach Darryl Sydor, a longtime NHL defenseman, that he might need to come out of retirement.

"He was excited. He thought he was on a tryout today," Yeo said, laughing. "He was taping his sticks, he was putting the Flexall on his legs. He's got to work on his gaps a little bit."

Etc.

• Defenseman Mike Lundin made his season debut Friday on a two-game conditioning assignment with the Houston Aeros. Lundin, who has missed all season because of a back injury, played against the Texas Stars and is scheduled to play against the Abbotsford Heat on Sunday.

• The Wild reassigned forward Casey Wellman and put defenseman Marco Scandella (concussion) on injured reserve retroactive to Saturday.

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