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Expecting A Tight Race Between Wild and Pens

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

The early exit polls show that the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins are statistically two of the best teams in the National Hockey League. Both are among the league leaders in a number of categories including: goals for (Wild’s 3.4 is third, Pens’ 4.1 is first); goals against (Wild first 1.8, Pens’ 2.2 is 11th); shots on goal (Wild’s 35 per game is second, Pens’ 31.1 is ninth); and scoring differential (Wild’s 1.6 is second, Pens’ 1.9 is first).

The lone statistical disparity comes on the power play. However, even political numerical prognosticator, Nate Silver, couldn’t have forecast the statistical anomalies on the man advantage of both teams through 10 games.

Before the start of the season, even the most amateur hockey analysis would’ve guessed that Pittsburgh would have one of the best power plays in the National Hockey League. Still, the Pens’ 41.9 percent conversion rate on the man advantage is the political equivalent to an 80 percent approval rating. Meanwhile, the Wild’s power play was struggling to find traction up until its last game, where it went 2-for-4 against the Dallas Stars, getting off the season snide.

“There were signs it was coming,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “This is not something that scares us. We like a couple of things: one the personnel that we have; some of the movement that we’ve had; some of the chances we’ve been generating; and we know that with the guys we have they’ll start to find the back of the net more frequently.

Although Minnesota wasn’t scoring, the team was winning because of its five-on-five play. The power play struggles could’ve turned into a mudslinging campaign, but Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was impressed with how the team didn’t allow its performance on the PP dirty the other aspects of its game.

“There’s peaks and valleys to every aspect of your game through the course of the year,” Yeo said. “What I like is that we could’ve allowed that to become a distraction, we could’ve allowed that to affect the rest of our game, but I think good teams overcome stuff like that. We did that with our penalty killing; we did that with our five on five play. There will be other times where things don’t go as well on the penalty kill and we’re going to need our power play to pick up the slack.”

So, the Wild will look to continue its strong penalty kill (89.3 percent good for fourth) against the dangerous Penguins’ power play. But the best way to slow the Pens’ PP is to stay out of the box and don’t give them the opportunity.

“The biggest thing is to move our feet, always move our feet and work hard,” defenseman Jonas Brodin said.

When it comes to even-strength play the Wild is tops in the League, outscoring opponents 2.07 per game. Of course, the Pens are not far behind in that category either (1.62 goals for per game ranks fourth).

For both teams the best defense has been a good offense and the Wild wants to earn O-zone time against the Pens. Both teams like to use their speed in transition, so it might come down to which team can control the tempo and establish its game.

“They’ve got a bunch of skill obviously,” center Erik Haula said. “Our D have done a great job with the gaps and keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone. That helps the offense a lot and also defensively.

Yeo, however, knows how deadly the team’s offensive weapons, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are. Of course, he had a front row seat to see both former Hart Trophy winners as the Penguins’ assistant coach from 2005-10.

“I’ve seen what those guys are capable of doing, as far as the way the other team is trying to check them. They’re successful against teams that play them different ways,” Yeo said. “Our philosophy is pretty simple: we focus on ourselves. We think we’ve got a good system in place, a good checking game; we’ve got good personnel. Bottom line is we’ve got to be ready to go out do the job.”

If the Wild can tax the Pens’ potent offense tonight, Yeo might ready for a run at office in the next election cycle.

Dumba Faces Former Coach

Wild defenseman Matt Dumba might not have much experience with the Penguins’ personnel, but he’s familiar with the guy behind the bench. Pittsburgh’s new bench boss, Mike Johnston, was Dumba’s head coach for the Portland Winterhawks after he was returned to junior hockey last season. The blueliner expected him to find success in his first NHL head-coaching gig.

“I’m not surprised,” Dumba said. “He was so good with us in Portland. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had—such a smart man.

“He’s very intellectual and knows the game well.”

Carter Likely

Ryan Carter, who missed the previous game with an upper-body injury will take warmups tonight and will re-enter the lineup if he’s ready to go.

“I have a good feeling we’ll see him in there tonight,” Yeo said.

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