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Confidence in defensive structure buoys Wild's fortunes

Hot goalie, six strong defensemen a boon as Wild continues winning ways

by Kayleigh Jackson /

ST. PAUL -- The past week has been kind to the Wild. Since last Wednesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, multiple franchise records have been broken and the Wild are riding a three-game win streak.

Jason Zucker, of course, scored six consecutive goals, and Devan Dubnyk broke his own franchise record for a shutout streak, which is currently at 195 minutes, 5 seconds.

But what may be easily overlooked among the individual performances has been Minnesota's stout team defense. With the exception of a few explosive games earlier in the season, the Wild has primarily been involved in close, low-scoring games.

Still, the team remains firmly planted in the win column, thanks to a strong defensive effort not only from the back end of the roster but from the entire team. In the past three games, players have blocked 62 shots -- including a number of last-minute desperation attempts from opponents.

Video: MIN@PHI: Staal denies Gostisbehere at the last second

"You've got to be committed, especially in close games. Anything that gets through can be a difference maker," Eric Staal said. "When you are in your end and you're defending, you've got to pay a price at certain times to make it difficult on the opposition."

The Wild has certainly succeeded in stymieing opponents, not only blocking shots but frequently breaking up plays in their defensive zone and spearheading rushes in the opposite direction. "We're not giving a lot of teams a lot of space right now," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We're being quick to check, we're doing a really good job of it, and I think we're getting the lead and we're enjoying the lead."

Video: Boudreau on keeping wins coming

With the defense really beginning to click, the team is flying high going into Thursday's game agains the Nashville Predators.

"When you start gaining confidence in your team's structure, your team's ability to defend, it can go a long way," Staal said.

In particular, the defensive pairing of Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba has been tremendous in recent nights, flying on the ice and generally frustrating the most talented players on the other team.

Younger defensive players have also gotten a vote of confidence from their teammates. Gustav Olofsson has become a lineup regular after beginning the season as a frequent healthy scratch and has visibly stepped up his game since gaining more consistent playing time. Mike Reilly has also improved, bolstering the blue line. 

"Right from the beginning of camp, almost, you could see from both of them that work ethic and wanting to take that next step," Mikko Koivu said. "You need to work hard each and every day and I think they've really been doing that.

"We need them, that's the bottom line. If you want to be a successful team you need six good defensemen and we've been having that now."

With the defense clicking, a resurgence in scoring is sure to follow. Wednesday's practice centered around the power play and the forecheck, building on what the team is already doing well to hopefully pad the score sheets moving forward.

Video: Wild look to keep improving offense

So what's the trick to that?

"Moving pucks quickly, making simple plays," Staal said. "I think for everybody, sometimes, when you're thinking less and just playing the game it becomes easier."

Simplification has become a mantra in the Wild dressing room, and that renewed emphasis on the basics has been a turning point in the early season. The theory of quality over quantity permeates practice, as each day the team focuses on just one or two things to fine-tune.

"I've always got a philosophy that one thing, at least, a day in practice you've got to accomplish," Boudreau said. "You don't go out there to put the skates on."

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