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From The Circle, PK Rounding Into Form For Wild

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

SAN JOSE -- The talk the past month or so when it comes to the Minnesota Wild's special teams play has been the power play.

But over that four-week stretch, what's really been special is the penalty kill.

"It was a little bit of a mindset," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Pucks went in on us early. Not that we were doing things poorly, but it got us into a sit-and-watch mode."

After finishing last season atop the NHL with a penalty kill percentage of 86.3, the Wild did not start this season as effectively when shorthanded. Minnesota conceded a power-play goal in five of its first 10 games, going 18-for-24 on the kill.

Things gradually got better, but since January 1, as the calendar flipped to 2016, the Wild's penalty kill looks more like it went back in time to the unit that paced the NHL last season.

"Just all of us, we're in sync right now," Erik Haula said. "Kind of going back to last year, it feels like we got back to the level that we were."

A noticeable change of late has been how aggressive the Wild has managed to be in certain areas even when down a skater.

"When we're at our best, we're on our toes and more aggressive," Yeo said. "Once we got back to that, we got a little bit stronger in the sense of our identity."

The Wild picks its spots to apply pressure when shorthanded. Minnesota sends at least one forward to try to disrupt play as high as the offensive blue line. If he's able to make a play on the puck or puck-carrier, the second forward has the freedom to follow up and force the attacking team to regroup once again.

When you're getting scored on, it's difficult to maintain that aggressiveness.

"It's just trying to, whenever there's a chance, also, trying to have that offensive mindset as well, and keep the power play on their toes," Haula said. "I feel like everybody has been doing a really good job."

Haula also said the Wild has been adjusting to getting new pieces incorporated on the penalty kill. Forwards Chris Porter and Jarret Stoll are chief among them, and have both been integral in helping Minnesota be effective in that area of its game.

"Not coincidentally, too, when our penalty kill started to get a little bit better, we picked up Jarret," Yeo said. "I remember specifically a lot of goals that we gave up early in the year directly off faceoffs."

From the start of the season through December 16, the day before Stoll made his Wild debut, Minnesota's penalty kill was at 77.1 percent. With Stoll in the lineup, the Wild has killed off 84.6 percent of penalties.

But the other element of what Yeo said, the faceoffs, are an even clearer signpost in terms of what has helped the Wild's penalty kill round into form.

Through December 31, the Wild had a shorthanded faceoff percentage of 42.2. Since January 1 that percentage has jumped to 53.5 after the Wild's game on Thursday.

Not coincidentally, over that stretch, the Wild had killed off 90.5 percent of penalties entering Saturday, the fifth most efficient PK in the NHL in 2016.

"When you look at the way [Stoll] wins faceoffs, when you look at the way Mikko wins faeoffs, and [Haula] has been doing a really good job there, we can throw out Charlie, or [Granlund], and that's just such a huge part of your penalty kill," Yeo said.

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