After the Wild fell to Colorado on Friday, losing its third consecutive game in regulation for the first time this season, coach Mike Yeo stood behind his podium. He lamented about a lineup that was in flux, sometimes from shift to shift.
“We’ve got to figure it out as coaches, figure it out matchup-wise, figure it out role and identity-wise, but more importantly, regardless of who you’re out there with, what’s your job, what are you supposed to do, what do we need from you?” Yeo said at the time. “That’s what we need right now.”
The Wild is 1-0-1 since, and after each of the games — the latest being a 2-0 victory Monday over Philadelphia — the Wild third-year coach talked about the importance of “roles” in the lineup.
He raved about leaders Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville, who make up the most recent first line, helping the Wild revive how it “needs to play to be successful” both Saturday at Colorado and Monday against the Flyers. Yeo pumped the tires of the reunited checking line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell, who were so good in training camp, proving that the best defense is when you play the entire night in the offensive zone.
He also made note Monday about how important Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka were to Monday’s victory. In limited ice time, Rupp stood up for teammates by fighting Jay Rosehill and Konopka won “big faceoffs” in a game the Wild was lousy in the faceoff circle.
“It’s important to have guys in roles,” Yeo said. “Everybody’s got a different piece of the puzzle, and you put it together to the make the picture that you want.”
These identified roles are why Yeo has opted in two of the past three games to scratch rookie winger Justin Fontaine, who has six goals this season.
Mitchell always seems to have chemistry with Cooke and Brodziak. In addition, besides being key penalty killers, Yeo often trusts them as the three forwards to throw over the boards with the task of regaining momentum if the Wild fails to score on its power play.
Rupp gives the Wild some ruggedness and a player who is willing to stand up to opponents taking liberties. Konopka kills penalties and has the highest career faceoff winning percentage (.650) of any active NHLer.
A star again
Goalie Josh Harding was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Month for November. Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin were the First and Second Stars, respectively.
Harding went 8-2-2 in November with a 1.88 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and one shutout in helping the Wild go 9-4-2.
Monday, in his first start in December, Harding improved to 14-4-3, setting career-highs with 14 victories and three shutouts in 22 games. Harding leads the NHL with a 1.45 goals-against average and is second with a .939 save percentage.
“Right now there’s no time to look back on what you did,” Harding said. “You can’t look back on the [past], otherwise it’s going to come back to haunt you. I’m just trying to keep the guys in it every night.”
It even drives Pominville nuts that, since his acquisition from Buffalo, the line combination of Parise-Koivu-Pominville doesn’t score as often as it should.
But for the second game in a row Monday, that line came through in the clutch. Saturday at Colorado, Pominville and Parise assisted on Koivu’s tying goal with six seconds left. Monday, Koivu set up Pominville for his team-leading 14th goal and fourth winning goal.
“It’s been kind of weird … when we’re put together, we’ve done a lot of good things but have had a tough time putting them in net,” Pominville said. “But it’s two nights in a row where we get rewarded with goals. I figured it was only a matter of time before we put some away.”
Said Yeo of the line: “If you’re putting money on somebody to go out and score that big goal for us, the leaders, the way they’ve been playing, the way they’ve been helping us get back to our game, it’s great for those guys to get rewarded.”