After the Wild’s overtime loss in St. Louis on Saturday, coach Mike Yeo was asked whether he was satisfied with how his team is adapting to the new three-on-three overtime format.
“I’m not pleased that we’re 0-2,’’ he said, a reference to the Wild’s record in overtime this season. “We have to experiment with this a little bit more.’’
The Wild got some top-notch chances during Saturday’s five-minute overtime, but it could not connect. And the wide-open, freewheeling nature of three-on-three hockey means that missed opportunities often lead to odd-man rushes and breakaways for the other team. Saturday, after Blues goalie Jake Allen stopped a shot by Wild forward Zach Parise, St. Louis took off on a rush that ended when David Backes scored with 34 seconds left for a 3-2 Blues victory.
On Oct. 16, the Wild lost 2-1 to Los Angeles in its only other overtime game this season. The two defeats have left Yeo searching for a strategy that will suit his team.
“We’ve got to come to the solution quickly here,’’ Yeo said. “Personnel-wise, we’ve got to figure it out. We can’t be too content and just OK saying that it’s new. We have to find a way to win those games, too.’’
The new format was intended to reduce the number of shootouts, and it is getting the desired result. Through Saturday, of the 33 NHL games that had gone to overtime this season, only 10 required a shootout.
Line changes are perhaps the trickiest part of playing three-on-three. The Wild was caught on one long shift Saturday that prevented Yeo from sending out some players he wanted on the ice, and forward Jason Zucker said players have to watch carefully for opportunities to make a change.
“It’s fun,’’ Zucker said of the new format. “It’s exciting. You’ve got to be smart out there and make sure you’re doing the right things.’’
The fab fourth
Yeo continued to rave about the Wild’s fourth line, which has scored a goal in each of the past two games. Ryan Carter, Erik Haula and Chris Porter are playing with purpose, Yeo said, and practicing sound fundamentals while allowing their instincts to guide them. That has enabled them to provide the shutdown defense and spark Yeo wants from his fourth line while also generating — and cashing in on — some good scoring chances.
Haula got his first goal of the season Saturday when he forced a turnover in the Blues’ zone, then went to the net to score on a Thomas Vanek pass. In Friday’s 5-4 victory over Chicago, he and Porter set up a Carter goal that erased a 2-1 Blackhawks lead. The line also has succeeded in drawing penalties, and Carter provided some muscle against the rugged Blues when he fought former Wild teammate Kyle Brodziak.
“They have a real strong sense of what their identity is,’’ Yeo said. “Instead of trying to force the issue, those guys are just playing the game right now.
“They try to defend hard, and they’re taking pride in that part of the game. And as things go along, they’re bringing more energy. But at the same time, they’ve been spending a lot more shifts on the ice against the other teams’ top lines, because they’re doing the job.’’
• Haula was among the players Yeo used in overtime, and he said the center is earning his increased ice time. “If he keeps playing well, there will be more opportunities for him,’’ Yeo said.
• The Wild has gotten off to a good start in the Central Division (3-1-1). The Central remains the toughest division in the NHL; five of its teams are among the top eight in the league.
“It gives you a chance to grow your game, to make you sharp in your game,’’ Yeo said of playing Central foes. “It’s a tough division to play in. But playing teams of this caliber night after night, it gets you on top of things in a hurry.’’