Despite his team’s 1-5 record in overtime games this season, Wild coach Mike Yeo remains a fan of the new three-on-three format — with one qualifier.
“I think it’s good for the game,’’ he said Tuesday, after a practice at Xcel Energy Center. “It’s a lot of fun when you win, and it stinks when you lose.’’
With the fun nights few and far between, Yeo and his players spent time Tuesday brushing up their three-on-three play. Monday’s 2-1 overtime loss at Colorado again demonstrated how tricky it can be to change lines in the new format. With players racing up and down the ice, and missed scoring opportunities frequently creating odd-man rushes in the other direction, skaters can get stranded on long shifts and beaten by an opponent with fresher legs.
Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu both found themselves in that spot Monday, as the Wild continued to struggle with the art of the overtime line change. The solution, Yeo and his players agreed, will come with more practice, more awareness and more experience.
“We’re not the only ones,’’ Yeo said. “We’ve seen a lot of teams give up goals and chances on line changes. It’s something we have to continue to be mindful of.
“It’s going to be hard to perfect. It’s [happening] in real time, and there are hockey plays going on. We have to practice it, and it’s up to us as a staff to do everything we can to see if we can get an advantage anywhere.’’
Making efficient line changes in overtime requires quick thinking and keen assessment. Winger Jason Zucker called it a “big key’’ to overtime success, and he and forward Charlie Coyle both said players must be ready to get off the ice a little earlier than they normally would to avoid getting stuck.
Coyle added that the Wild is learning tricks and strategies, such as using the goaltender to maintain possession of the puck and allow time for a change.
“We’re figuring out those things as time goes on,’’ Coyle said. “It’s a thinking game. You’ve got to be ready for it.’’
After a strong start, the line of Zucker, Koivu and Nino Niederreiter has cooled considerably. Zucker hasn’t scored a point in the past eight games, and Koivu has been blanked in the past six. Niederreiter last scored a goal Nov. 14 in an overtime loss at Dallas, a span of 10 games.
Yeo said the line is “out of sync’’ and pressing to score. “Right now, they’re not quite reading off each other as far as where [each is] supposed to be,’’ he said. “But I feel like their game is trending in the right direction.’’
The line has gotten more time in the offensive zone in the past two games, Yeo said, and it is now up to the trio to create scoring chances. Koivu noted that the group’s previous success has helped it remain confident as it seeks to regain its groove.
“You can’t force it or overdo it,’’ said Koivu, the Wild’s second-leading scorer with four goals and 16 assists. “You’ve got to let the game come to you. In situations when [the puck] isn’t going in, that’s kind of a tough thing to do.
“We’re trying to reset and go back to basics, trusting that will bring it again. Sometimes, it takes a longer period of time to get it going, and the only way to do it is to play the game the right way and do the right things in practice as a line.’’
Dubnyk on the mend
Yeo said goalie Devan Dubnyk wanted to practice Tuesday but was told to rest as he continues to recover from a mild groin strain. The team has an off day Wednesday, and Yeo said he has “a real strong feeling’’ that Dubnyk will return to practice Thursday.
Dubnyk left Saturday’s game midway through the second period and did not travel to Denver for Monday’s rematch with the Avalanche.
“He wanted to skate,’’ Yeo said. “He feels he’s ready to skate. I’m pretty sure that having an extra day of rest would give him a better chance to heal up.’’
Center Tyler Graovac, who has missed 25 games after having core muscle surgery, participated fully in Tuesday’s practice and is progressing. “He’s skating well,’’ Yeo said. “The next step is to get in some more contact drills.’’