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Focus On Special Teams, Roster Battle In Last Week Of Camp

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Take a moment to imagine this scenario. You’re sitting in net, garbed in your finest goalie gear.

The rush is coming at you and Kyle Brodziak winds up and unleashes a shot. It goes high, right at your face.

Slightly terrifying for someone who isn’t an NHL goaltender, right? Well, if you’re Josh Harding, this scene was a very real reality today as the shot knocked off his helmet and sent him to the ice. He popped back up and eventually got his face mask back on, ready for the next rep.

His reaction to the situation could easily be summed up with a slight shrug of the shoulders. Harding said he just shook it off, noting “that’s why I’m a goalie.”

I’ll stick with watching from press row, thanks.

With a day of practice between its 3-1 win at home Wednesday night and it’s final preseason game Friday, both with new Central Division foe St. Louis, the Wild spent the majority of the session working on special teams. Between zone drills of both 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 as well as drills focused on entering the zone a man up, Minnesota focused on an area of the game crucial to the regular season.

Head Coach Mike Yeo noted in yesterday’s pregame interviews that he’d like to see more improvement within special teams play, so you can expect the Wild to put a lot of emphasis on it through the final week of camp.

Speaking of the final week, this Thursday the Wild open the season against the Los Angeles Kings at Xcel Energy Center. When asked how he felt about the team today, Yeo said he feels they’re in a good place now but there’s still work to be done, which will continue through the opening weeks of the season. It’ll be a work in progress, but the bench boss likes where they’re headed.

Part of that work is finding the right mix of chemistry on the ice and, not to mention, one final day of cuts to slim the roster down to 23 for opening night. With only one game left, tomorrow will still be a battle to figure out those final roster spots.

While there’s plenty of time for the front office to make those decisions, some of that focus is currently on Jason Zucker after Yeo’s postgame comments yesterday. Yeo said he didn’t think the winger had the strongest performance last night and further explained today he felt Zucker simply wasn’t as engaged as he should have been; for example, losing races to pucks—something that shouldn’t happen with his speed.

Zucker did miss several days earlier in camp after suffering a strained groin in the preseason opener Sept. 17 against Columbus. He is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night.

Mikael Granlund, who suffered an upper body injury in the Wild’s Sept. 21 tilt with Winnipeg, will also return to the lineup tomorrow after he was scratched from last night’s action.

In other news, we’re rolling out the new Wild App today on iPhone. It’ll be available soon on Android, but you can find more information here.

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