As glad as he was to see the end of an unproductive road trip, Mike Yeo knows that coming home to Xcel Energy Center is not a cure-all for his team’s ills. The Wild coach said his players needed a good day of practice to set themselves up for Tuesday’s game against Nashville, and he was happy with the work they put in on Monday.
In a highly focused and energetic session that covered more than an hour, the Wild tuned up several problem areas, including two major weaknesses: its penalty kill and its play around the net. Yeo also erased the line changes he instituted for Saturday’s loss at Florida. Nino Niederreiter was reunited on the top line with center Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville teamed again on the second line with center Mikael Granlund and Dany Heatley.
With only 19 goals in nine games — including five goals during the road trip, which ended with a 1-2-1 record — Yeo continues to search for ways to generate more scoring. He urged his players to adopt “an attack mentality,’’ a concept echoed by Parise. The winger said the Wild has been too content to play on the perimeter, and Monday’s three-on-three drills around the net enabled players to work on a skill that could make a big difference.
“We haven’t really practiced that a lot this year, and it’s one thing we need to get a lot better at,’’ said Parise, who leads the Wild with four goals but failed to score on 21 shots during the road swing. “We have good puck possession, but I don’t think we’re creating enough scoring chances around the net.
“Right now, we’ve just got our guy in the high slot waiting for a one-timer, and our other guys on the outside. That’s not how you score. We need to get some guys going through the middle and getting around the net, penetrating the defense a little bit.’’
Parise also suggested the Wild could be more aggressive on its penalty kill, which has allowed at least one power-play goal in eight of its nine games. The Wild’s success rate of 73 percent is ranked 29th among the NHL’s 30 teams.
Parise said the Wild sometimes allows opponents “a free opportunity to set up’’ power-play shots. Yeo agreed that the Wild often has hurt itself by being too hesitant on the penalty kill, and some of Monday’s practice was devoted to correcting details.
Yeo reverted to his earlier line combinations because two of them — the Parise-Koivu-Niederreiter trio and the third line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine — had been successful, and he didn’t want efforts to spark the second line to spoil their effectiveness. In a similar vein, he does not want players to lose sight of their strengths.
As hard as it might seem, Parise said, the Wild will not break out of its slump unless players can put it out of their minds. “That’s the hard part, and the thing I think we’ve got to be careful of,’’ he said. “I think everyone’s all uptight because we haven’t scored a lot lately. Everyone’s thinking about it. We’ve just got to relax a little bit, and we’ll be fine.’’
• Defenseman Keith Ballard did not participate in Monday’s practice and is unlikely to play Tuesday. Ballard has not played since he was struck in the face by a puck in a victory at Buffalo on Oct. 14. He started the Wild’s morning skate last Saturday at Florida, but he did not feel well and left the ice.
“We’re just keeping him off [the ice] right now,’’ Yeo said. “We tried getting him on the ice, so let’s just hold him off for a couple of days and see what happens.’’
• Winger Mike Rupp continues to work his way back from offseason knee surgery and is close to returning. Rupp is taking part in most phases of practice, but Yeo said he still has to “get another gear into his game.’’
• Goaltender Niklas Backstrom said he expects his strained knee to be completely healed within a couple of days.