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Wild seeks improvement for struggling PK

Typically stingy penalty kill has been a source of concern recently

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- With some rare downtime during what Wild defenseman Ryan Suter termed the "dog days" of the regular season, the Wild is aiming to get at least one critical component of its team back on track: a struggling penalty kill. 

In 22 games since Nov. 21, the Wild is killing just 71.1 percent of its opportunities, a number that would rank dead last in the NHL and some 17 points less than League-leading San Jose, which has killed 88.3 percent of its chances. 

Every team goes through peaks and valleys with its special teams, but the Wild's struggle on the kill has been maddening for coach Bruce Boudreau. Minnesota has, traditionally, been one of the NHL's top killing teams. 

But for an extended stretch now, it seems the Wild simply can't get out of its own way when it's killing penalties. Even when the Wild has done the right things, like Boudreau said it did in a shootout loss to Calgary on Sunday, pucks still end up going in the net. 

"A lot of things haven't been working," Boudreau said. "[But] against Calgary, we did a lot of [good things]. They had two shots. We put both goals in our own net. We killed the penalty perfectly; they didn't have good entries, we did what we were supposed to do, they listened. If anything, maybe we missed a clear.

"But when things are going bad in that respect, things aren't working, everything seems to go to hell in a handbasket."

Minnesota has surrendered two power-play goals in consecutive games and at least one in three straight. So much of killing penalties is confidence, and getting through one game without allowing a goal is something Wild forward Marcus Foligno said could be the key to a turnaround.

"Even against Winnipeg, we know we gave up two crucial goals, but there were some other penalty kills that we shut them down," Foligno said. "There was other penalties that we killed and did a really good job on. Calgary too, one goes off a skate and into the goal, another goes off a stick and in. 

"It's not like teams, except Winnipeg, have had these nice passing plays. Last game, I think we got on the bad side of some bounces. We had a lot of good up-ice pressure, they didn't really set up a lot in the zone and they had to get through it, and we did a good job of squeezing [Johnny] Gaudreau, making the play early. I thought we had a lot of jump in our PK."

The Wild will get another chance to slow the Flames power play on Thursday when it faces the same Calgary team, this time at the Scotiabank Saddledome. 

The Flames' power play ranks just ahead of the Wild's at 19.1 percent, good enough for 18th-best in the League. 

Minnesota's kill ranks 25th in the NHL overall, and just two of the six teams behind it are currently inside the playoff bubble. 

"It's [frustrating], especially a guy like me who takes pride in it and wants it to be perfect," Foligno said. "It's such a crucial part in the game right now and it's something we know that has to get fixed sooner rather than later. Playoffs, you gotta be really good on the penalty kill and trying to make the playoffs, that a key to try and get going."

Kaapo's back ... for now

The Wild recalled goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen on an emergency basis on Tuesday morning and he practiced with the team.

Kahkonen will travel with the team to Calgary as Devan Dubnyk will stay behind and tend to an appointment involving his wife's medical condition. 

Bartkowski recalled

Minnesota also recalled defenseman Matt Bartkowski from Iowa as an extra skater for the game in Calgary. 

Bartkowski, who is Iowa's captain, has one goal and 11 points in 36 games. A veteran of 255 NHL games in his career, Bartkowski has eight goals and 48 points in those games. He scored one goal in two games with Minnesota last season. 

Bartkowski will join the club on Wednesday before the team departs for Alberta. 

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