Wild looks to change its ways on the road

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 11:57 AM

It’s the only team among the top 13 in the NHL under .500 in away games.

 

– Thirty-two games into the season, we know the Wild is a hard opponent to face on home ice. It’s been an opposite tale when the Wild leaves the comfy confines of Xcel Energy Center, however.

“We haven’t been that good on the road,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who like free-agent sidekick Zach Parise is always good for an honest assessment. “We’ve been pretty solid at home. We have to find a way to get better on the road because good teams win on the road.”

The Wild will have ample opportunity now. Seven of the Wild’s next eight games come on the road, where the Wild averages 1.85 goals per game (third-lowest in the NHL) and give up one goal per game more than it does at home (1.77 vs. 2.78).

The Wild better buckle up this three-game road trip because it faces quite the test: back-to-back games at Anaheim and San Jose before concluding in Denver.

The Ducks are the only NHL team without a regulation home loss (11-0-2) and the Sharks have lost once in regulation at home and are 7-1 in their past eight home games against Minnesota. Both teams are north of the Wild in the standings. The Avs were one point behind the Wild before playing Phoenix on Tuesday, but they had played four fewer games.

The Wild, which ranked sixth in the West and ninth in the NHL before Tuesday’s NHL action, is 13-3-2 at home. It is only 5-6-3 on the road — the only team in the NHL’s top 13 with a below-.500 road record.

“Personally, I think we’re built for the road,” left wing Matt Cooke said. “We don’t want to go out and make everything look pretty. We’re a team that’s going to go out and play responsible and take care of our own end and capitalize on our opportunities. That should suit us well on the road.”

The Wild’s focus Wednesday will be on somehow conquering the Honda Center, home of the Ducks, who possess the NHL’s most lethal first line. The Dustin Penner-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry line has combined for 45 goals, more than any other NHL line.

Perry is tied for second in the league with 20 goals and has a goal in six consecutive games. Getzlaf is riding a 12-game point streak that would actually be 14 games if he didn’t miss time because of an injury in between.

“Those guys, they’re a threat every time they’re on the ice,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “They play you hard, too. They try to play a game where they break you … in the offensive zone.

“Obviously they’re feeling it right now.”

On the road, Yeo won’t have the last line change, but look for him to try to get the Mikko Koivu or Kyle Brodziak lines and defensemen Suter and Jonas Brodin out against the Ducks’ first line.

But Yeo said, “whoever’s on the ice against those lines will have to be up to the task.”

Brodziak, Cooke and Torrey Mitchell are usually given the assignment of shutting down the opposing top lines. Brodziak, who will play his 500th game Wednesday, said the key will be execution.

The Wild has been shut out in two of the past three road games. In Friday’s 4-0 loss to Columbus — a game Yeo called the worst of the season — the Wild seldom left its zone cleanly because it couldn’t nullify the Blue Jackets’ aggressive forecheck.

The Ducks are also a big, aggressive team, so Brodziak said it will be critical for the Wild to find its way out of the defensive zone seamlessly and into the offensive zone.

“When we do that, we’re successful,” Brodziak said. “For our line, it’s just holding on to pucks down low, spending key time in their zone and frustrating them. If we do that, that’ll lead to our opportunities, too.

“But when our line is effective, we should be spending a lot of time in the offensive zone.”

Suter said opponents coming in waves on the road has been a common theme against the Wild.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I think when you’re on the road and a team is putting pucks in, they’re just building their momentum and we have to find ways to break that. And we haven’t been able to do that yet this year.”

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