Minnesota Wild buying in on defense, among the NHL's best so far

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2013 - 11:30 AM

Former defensive stalwart Wes Walz sees a team that is much more aggressive in its own zone.

hide

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom had plenty of help from Jared Spurgeon (46) and Clayton Stoner (4) as Calgary’s Matt Stajan went for a shot in Minnesota’s victory Tuesday at the Xcel Energy Center.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, ALL

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

GLENDALE, ARIZ. - The adage is that defense wins championships. That should be considered good news for Wild fans.

Overshadowed by the Wild's scoring woes this season is the fact that the Wild has been one of the NHL's stingiest teams on the defense.

The Wild, ranked 30th offensively (2.06 goals per game), ranks eighth in goals against (2.33 a game) and second-lowest, after Chicago, in the Western Conference since Feb. 9 (1.75). It has allowed 27.5 shots per game, tied for sixth in the NHL and four shots a game fewer than last year.

Its penalty kill ranks sixth (85 percent).

"You look at the Stanley Cup winners every year, they're teams that are very good defensively," coach Mike Yeo said. "And that has to be a staple for us and who we are."

Wes Walz, the former Wild heart-and-soul checking forward, has seen a team that is much more aggressive in its own zone and improved at breaking the puck out.

Teams will get pinned in their own zone no matter how good they are. Walz said it has been during those occasions when he's noticed how good the Wild is defensively.

"In Edmonton the other night, they were basically all over [Mikko Koivu's] line and we were hemmed in our zone for 45 seconds," said Walz, an analyst for Fox Sports North. "But the Oilers were not able to get the puck into a scoring area.

"I just love the way [the Wild] defend in their own end of the rink, especially when they're playing extended zone time. There's always a tendency when you've been in your zone 20 or 30 seconds to over-pursue almost in a sense of anxiety. That's when breakdowns happen.

"But they always stay in perfect position. There's just not a lot of panic and guys getting caught out of position."

Walz said big credit should go to newcomer Ryan Suter, who leads the NHL in ice time per game (27 minutes, 39 seconds). Not only is he terrific in his own zone, Walz said, but Suter constantly gets the puck moving north.

"He has such a calm demeanor in his own end of the rink," Walz said. "He doesn't come off as a guy that gets overly excited when things aren't going good, and Niklas Backstrom's like that. Mikko's like that."

Walz throws rookie Jonas Brodin, Suter's defense partner, into the same realm: "That's two guys that's not in our lineup last year, and those two guys are guys we're leaning on to play huge minutes. Honestly, I don't know what to say about Jonas Brodin. I marvel at how good this kid is as a 19-year-old. I'm not easily impressed, but this guy's been like off the charts.

"When his game starts to develop offensively, I don't throw around Norris Trophy talk too often, but he's got the potential to be that kind of guy."

Backstrom, who has given up only one goal in four of his past six starts and has a 2.17 goals-against average this season, couldn't agree more.

"It's fun to watch them. They play close to 30 minutes a night and do the right things shift after shift," Backstrom said. "They're good examples to all of us. Defense has to be our foundation."

Walz is most impressed how the Wild bought into Yeo's defensive system. It sure helps when you have leaders like Koivu and Zach Parise, who preach to teammates constantly not to "cheat" defensively.

"Whatever Mike and his staff are doing to get these guys to buy in defensively has been nothing short of remarkable," Walz said. "This team has much more talent than we used to have, and when you have that, it's hard to keep guys dialed in. They want to cheat, especially when they're struggling to score. But Mike's got them buying in.

"Defense wins. If it's not your No. 1 priority, I don't believe you have a chance to win even if you're scoring five goals a game. If this team can figure out the offensive side of things and continue to defend, we're not Chicago or Anaheim, but we can be the top of the next set."

  • related content

  • Russo: Coyle off the hook for major penalty

    Wednesday February 27, 2013

    Coyle will practice today and is expected to play tomorrow at Phoenix. He was called for an elbowing major Tuesday night in Calgary.

  • Wild-Phoenix game preview

    Wednesday February 27, 2013

    Preview: The Wild, 5-2-1 in its past eight, is coming off a 2-1 overtime victory over Calgary on Tuesday. Rookie Jason Zucker scored with 4:19 left in regulation and LW...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Diego 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Indiana 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Detroit
Dallas 7:00 PM
New Orleans
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Boston
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Vancouver 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Chicago 7:00 PM
Nashville
Arizona 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Carolina 8:00 PM
Calgary
Buffalo 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Columbus 9:30 PM
San Jose
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite Wild player?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close