Wild gears up to recapture winning formula

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2014 - 2:18 PM

By the time Thursday rolls around, Minnesota will have gone three weeks without a game.

The Wild last played 2½ weeks ago.

“It feels like months,” winger Jason Pominville said.

The Olympic break is over and the Wild hopes to rediscover the momentum that might have been lost by players scattering for vacation or, in the case of four, the Sochi Games.

The Wild was 11-4-2 in 17 games since the calendar turned to 2014 and has a five-point cushion in the playoff race.

“We finished off the right way,” said Pominville, the Wild’s leading scorer with 22 goals and 40 points in 59 games. “We went into the break feeling good about our game, and we’ve had some good practices. The only way to find that groove again is to try to bring back those good habits that we had.”

Wild coach Mike Yeo spent Monday’s practice reintroducing his system, from neutral-zone forechecks to breakouts. There were 5-on-5 line rushes and other gamelike situations.

Top-six forwards Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund and No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter returned from Russia late Sunday and won’t practice until Wednesday. That means the lines rushes being deployed in practice won’t be the lines in Edmonton and Vancouver on Thursday and Friday.

“It’s going to be important for us to help these guys get their minds back in the right place,” Yeo said.

Captain Mikko Koivu, recovering from ankle surgery, took part in every drill Monday and practiced longer than he has since rejoining the team last Wednesday.

“If we had to play [Monday], he wouldn’t be able to play,” Yeo said. “So we’ve made some progress, but we’ve got to still gain a little bit more in the next couple days.”

Koivu missed 15 games and the Olympics, where he was slated to be Finland’s captain.

“When you know that you don’t think about it in the back of your mind, then you know for sure you’re ready to go,” Koivu said. “It’s a lot better right now than what it was last week, so that’s a good sign.”

Yeo said “potentially” he would keep the Parise-Granlund- Pominville line intact. That is notable because, other than one period this season against Montreal, Yeo hasn’t split Parise and Koivu in two seasons.

The Parise-Granlund-Pominville line followed some productive shifts together last month in Anaheim with nine points in a loss at Colorado. But in their final three games, they combined for three points and were each minus-3.

“Things went a little bit dry,” Yeo said. In his next breath, though, Yeo indicated it might make sense to keep Granlund there after his impressive Olympic performance. Granlund led Finland with seven points and was named to the all-tournament team.

Yeo wants to keep Kyle Brodziak at center and likes rookie Erik Haula there as well. By deduction, it sounds like Charlie Coyle will move from center to wing. The only thing all but certain is Pominville remaining with Granlund. They’ve had chemistry all season.

“Who knows what’s going to happen when Mikko’s back?” Pominville said. “Coaches are going to have some tough decisions to make, and for them that’s probably a good sign because it means we have a lot of depth on the team.”

The Wild isn’t the only team that has to regain momentum. Every team is on a level playing field after the season abruptly stopped.

“It’s been a nice break, but I’m ready to get going,” Yeo said. “Everybody has the same challenge. It’s no different really than starting the season — you want to start the season on a good note.”

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  • Jason Pominville and the Wild will play for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks on Thursday, trying to regain the momentum they had before the Olympics.

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