Mike Yeo began Saturday’s game against St. Louis by starting the Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line vs. the Alex Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko line.
That seemed an early indicator of a matchup the Wild coach might chase, but midway through the first period, it became apparent Yeo wasn’t preoccupied by it.
Every line and defense pair got their turn against the Blues’ top line.
After the 3-2 victory that improved the Wild’s record to 2-0 this season, Yeo said he entrusts all his players against opposing top lines.
“The system doesn’t change from one line to the next,” Yeo said. “All those guys have the ability to be really good defensively. That’s our game, that’s who we are. It’s nice that we score more goals than we have in the past, it’s nice that we have more skill. But that stuff doesn’t matter unless we’re a good defensive team.”
Home teams get the last line change, so home coaches have the advantage when it comes to matchups. But if Yeo has trust in all his players, this could bode well on the road when Yeo doesn’t have as much control of matchups.
Maybe this is one reason why the Wild, which won a franchise-record 24 road games last season and is off to a 1-0 road start this year heading into a three-game trip to Arizona, Los Angeles and Anaheim, was 16-2-2 on the road after Devan Dubnyk’s arrival last season.
At one point, the Wild won a franchise-record 12 in a row away from St. Paul.
“The better you are defensively, the more we trust them, the more we don’t have to hide certain players, the more we don’t have to seek out certain matchups,” Yeo said. “We can just roll our lines more and get more flow to our game.”
Zach Parise, tied for the league lead with four goals, loves it.
“We’re comfortable playing any line against anyone, and I think that’s going to pay off for us,” Parise said. “If Mike’s able to play the fourth line against top lines, it opens up so much for everyone else and creates mismatches.”
Yeo and Parise say it comes down to the way the Wild is built. Like many teams in today’s NHL, the Wild doesn’t have a so-called shutdown line. The goal is to have three lines that can skate, score, play solid defensively and then a strong fourth line that can be fast, physical and tight defensively.
“In 2005 when I came in, which isn’t long ago, you had half your team that were good skaters, and the other half, or the 4, 5, 6 defensemen, they couldn’t really skate,” Parise said. “Now you can’t play if you can’t skate. The game has really evolved like that.”
With four days between Saturday’s game and Thursday’s at Arizona, Yeo held a hard practice Sunday designed to bring structure to the Wild’s game he felt was missing the first two games of the season.
“The guys put the work in today, and that’s what we needed,” Yeo said. “I knew the guys would be tired, but you have to grind through it, and this gives us a full day and a half of rest now [with Monday off].
“We did a lot of good things to be 2-0, but we should also not be satisfied with that. There’s a lot of areas we can be better.”
Aches and pains
The Wild was shorthanded in practice Sunday because banged-up left winger Zucker was given a maintenance day and center Tyler Graovac is sidelined because of what’s believed to be an aggravated hip flexor injury.
To get through practice, Ryan Carter took Zucker’s spot on the Koivu-Niederreiter line and defenseman Nate Prosser was a place-holder for Carter at right wing on the fourth line.
Justin Fontaine, who missed the first two games because of an oblique injury, skated with Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle.
Yeo said if Graovac can’t practice Tuesday, he’d be questionable for Thursday’s game. If he can’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday, he’s likely out Thursday and Friday.
Yeo said Dubnyk, the former Coyotes goalie, will make his first start at Arizona since the Jan. 14 trade to Minnesota. He’ll be shooting for his 100th career victory. Dubnyk’s Wild home debut last season was against the Coyotes. He stopped 25 of 26 shots in a win.
Darcy Kuemper is slated to make his season debut Friday at Los Angeles. In two games (one start) at the Staples Center, Kuemper is 1-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average and .962 save percentage.