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Wild finally getting shots, waiting for goals to follow

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For much of its recent history, at least on the shot chart, the Minnesota Wild have been trying to do more with less.

Minnesota won its only Northwest Division title in 2007-08 despite finishing 26th in the NHL in shots on goal. Until recently that was a high-water mark.

The four seasons after that the Wild finished 30th in that category, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs each time and dismissing a pair of coaches over that span.

When current coach Mike Yeo took over prior to the 2011-12 season, he sought to turn the Wild into a team that moved the puck "north," scoring more goals while playing a structured, simple system designed to get pucks deep and using an aggressive forecheck to pressure teams into mistakes.

Now in his third season, after yet another tweak to his system the results are starting to show on the shot chart.

After a 30th-place finish in 2011-12, the Wild saw a large jump in shots per game last season, going from 26.5 to 28.8, a number which ranked 17th in the League.

Perhaps it's no coincidence the Wild returned to the playoffs for the first time in nearly half a decade.

Instead of the dump-and-chase system the Wild typically played during his first two seasons in Minnesota, Yeo changed things again last summer, asking his players to control the puck into the offensive zone to set up the offense.

It's a small tweak that has shown big results.

Heading into the 10th game of the season, Tuesday against the visiting Nashville Predators (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), the Wild are averaging 30.7 shots per game, and perhaps more importantly lead the League in shots-against (21.8 per game).

A number of factors figure into the Wild's new-found shooter's mentality, but it's the system tweak which figure most prominently.

"We've had the puck a lot and that obviously gives you the opportunity to shoot pucks," Yeo said.

"We're not spending as much time defending," left wing Zach Parise said. "Our [zone] entries are cleaner, we're getting more chances off the rush."

Another reason for the increased number of shots has been Minnesota's ability to win faceoffs. At 55.7 percent, the Wild are winning the second-highest percentage of draws in the NHL.

"And even after the faceoffs, the [defensemen] are doing a good job of getting [shots] through traffic," captain Mikko Koivu said. "When you shoot, it's got to get through to the goalie and they're doing a good job of that."

Getting more chances has been a battle for several seasons for Minnesota. As the Wild have continued to improve on that front, another challenge emerged: Turning those shots into more goals.

Minnesota is tied for 25th in the League in goals per game, averaging just 2.11 per outing. It's a frustrating stat, considering the Wild are fourth in power-play efficiency at 26.3 percent.

All of that means the Wild are not getting it done 5-on-5, something Minnesota will need to address if it hopes to improve on its 3-3-3 record through nine games.

"When you get more shots I believe you're going to score more goals," Koivu said. "It will come. We just have to stay on top of that and keep doing that."

One of the benefits of more offensive-zone time has been less time spent in the defensive zone. Minnesota is more than two shots better than the next best team in shots-allowed per game.

Goaltender Josh Harding, who has played in seven of the Wild's nine games, leads the League in goals against average (1.11) and is third in save percentage (.948) among goaltenders with at least five starts.

In that span Harding has allowed two even-strength goals.

"If we can execute the right way we're giving ourselves not only an opportunity to not have to defend, but to get to the offensive zone or get a chance off the rush," Yeo said. "That's a huge advantage."

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