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Old Linemates Reunited; Penalty Kill Improving

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville's relationship spans far beyond when they became Minnesota Wild teammates last season. 

The two forwards spent over seven seasons together with the Buffalo Sabres from 2005 to the middle of the 2012-13 season. 

"A lot," Vanek said of how much he played with Pominville. "I don't know the exact amount, but quite a bit."

Between 2007 and 2012, Vanek played over 1,500 minutes with Pominville, the most common winger Pominville played with. Likewise, Pominville was Vanek's most frequent linemate on his opposite wing. 

"What worked well is we read off each other well," Vanek said. "Sometimes I feel like he knows my game better than I know my own game, and I feel the same with him. Sometimes you have that connection, and we had it."

In the closing minutes of the Wild's 5-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, with an empty net to shoot at, Vanek elected to pass the puck to Pominville, his longtime teammate, and reunited linemate after Vanek was moved onto a line with Pominville and Mikael Granlund to start the second period against Winnipeg. 

"That's something I noticed right off the hop," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "There's nothing that brings a team together like selfless plays. That was one of the messages before the game, and certainly that's one way of doing it, and defending is another way."

Pominville is searching for his first goal this season. There have been close calls, near misses, but the one bounce hasn't come just yet.

"I've struggled in this league before too, just like every other goal scorer does," Vanek said. "Sometimes all it takes is one, even if it's an empty-netter. It's nice to just get that zero off the board."

The decision to move Vanek on a line with Pominville and Granlund, according to Yeo, was because of how well Vanek played in the first period, and to create more depth to match up against Winnipeg.

"If the luxury presents itself where we can put him on our third line and really expose some matchups, then that's a real bonus for us as well," Yeo said.

With its full complement of forwards, the Wild has the ability to play Vanek on a different line, and take advantage of matchups.

"We have a lot of depth here, especially with Zach in the lineup," said Vanek, who said it hasn't been a susprise that he and Pominville have primarily played on different lines. "Me being with [Charlie Coyle], it gives us a little bit more depth."

Wild's Penalty Kill Rounding Out, Creating Chances

When Erik Haula scored a shorthanded goal in the third period against the Jets, the Wild found itself in the middle of a rarely seen streak.

After giving up three power-play goals in its first two games, the Wild then gave up three over its next 35 periods, a span in which it had also scored three shorthanded goals.

"We're getting there," Yeo said of the penalty kill. "Every game is a new challenge, and that's why I want to make sure we keep approaching it that way. Every team we face, they're going to have different looks, different setups, different personnel, and so you have to not only each game, but each kill, you have to take it with a lot of pride."

Blake Wheeler scored on the power play for Winnipeg in the third period, but since the Wild gave up three goals on the power play in its first two games, the penalty kill has been 84 percent effective.

The three shorthanded goals are also a nice bonus.

"We always talk about the first 8-10 seconds, and to create that pressure right away off the draw, or right as they get in the zone," Haula said. " You just have to read the play. You don't want to take any chances where you might get scored on, so you have to really pick your spots, and sometimes you just get good breaks."

An effective way of killing penalties is also not putting yourself in shorthanded situations.

"Our guys are getting comfortable with the rotation that we have, the group of guys going out, and whoever is going has been ready to step up, and just also recognizing that the next one is the most important one," Yeo said. "We've also been doing a pretty good job of staying out of the box."

The Wild's 30 times shorthanded this season are the fewest in the NHL, with the next least-penalized team after that (Carolina) at 34.

"Personnel-wise, we have guys with speed, and we want to make sure that other teams are on their heels," Yeo said. "We want to be an aggressive penalty-killing team; we want to try to get in their heads as far as the pressure we apply.

When opportunity strikes, penalty killers are encouraged to strike.

"With that, if we do a good job creating turnovers, we hope that it's no different than our five-on-five game, some opportunities to counter-attack, and our guys are doing a good job of it," Yeo said. "We're not being high-risk but we're recognizing those opportunities, and we're ready to jump."

Wild Weekly

Tonight at 7:30 pm, Thomas Vanek will be joining Kevin Falness on KFAN Wild Weekly. Be sure to tune in.

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