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Rink Report: Wild Rebounds Back into Defensive Form

After high-scoring wins against Los Angeles and Winnipeg, Wild shifts focus to D-zone

by Devin Lowe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- In its return from a four-day bye, Minnesota was able to put together back-to-back wins against Los Angeles and Winnipeg, potting 11 goals in the two games.

But while victory isn't out of character for the club, which sits alone atop the Western Conference and owns one more point than the chasing Chicago Blackhawks, leaning heavily on offense to do so is, according to Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.

 

"We had scored a lot of goals," Boudreau said after the team's brief practice on Monday morning at Xcel Energy Center. "But when you're scoring a lot of goals, you have a tendency to cheat offensively. And for us to get back to winning hockey -- which, to me, is not allowing the other team a lot of goals -- we had to get back to sacrificing and stopping and starting, and doing the things you have to do to not allow teams a lot of opportunities."

Video: Bruce Boudreau Practice at Xcel Energy Center

To turn things around, Boudreau and his assistants held a film session last Wednesday in Columbus to point out areas where the Wild was not as tight defensively as it typically is. 

Call it correlation, causation or coincidence: Minnesota's next two games were each some of the team's better defensive efforts put forth all year. 

A 1-0 loss to Columbus belied Devan Dubnyk's 39-save performance and the shutdown defense in front of him, and Boudreau said his team outchanced Columbus by a margin of 23-10. In the next game, a Sunday matinee at home against San Jose, the Wild's stingy defense was rewarded with a 3-1 win where the Sharks' scoring opportunities became fewer and father between as the game wore on.

"[Dubnyk] said that the game in Columbus was the easiest 40-shot game that he'd faced," Boudreau said. "And we only gave up 21 [shots], and, I think, not a lot of scoring chances [against San Jose]."

Minnesota is notorious for its defense-first mentality, and Boudreau credits that mindset for allowing his team to win 12 games in a row in the month of December. Eight of those 12 games were decided by one or two goals. Moving forward, it's the style of play to which the Wild hopes to stick, especially with upcoming games against some of the League's highest-scoring teams like Washington, the New York Rangers, Chicago and Winnipeg.

"We're one of the top teams right now, and we need to be on our game," said Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. "Just focusing on our structure and what we need to do, just little things to tighten up defensively and play the game that we usually do."

Video: Wild Focus on Defense Mentality

That's the task Boudreau and the Wild set out to achieve in Monday's practice, where defensemen worked on zone coverage and forwards came in with a physical forecheck. With 19 games in the next 33 days, Boudreau foresees using practice time to work on one thing from the night before that could be tighter.

Still, by all accounts, Sunday's game exemplified much of what the Wild does best, with Boudreau calling it one of his team's best defensive games this season after the horn.

"I think the guys felt good about themselves from yesterday's game and they see the potential that they have when they play the right way," Boudreau said.
 

Update on Folin

Defenseman Christian Folin, who fell awkwardly into the boards in the first period of Sunday's game, was not on the ice during Monday's practice. The Wild announced later on Monday that Folin will miss a minimum of three weeks with an upper-body injury.

Minnesota, which had just gotten Zach Parise and Jason Pominville back from battles with the mumps, iced its full lineup for just 9:49 before the injury to Folin left the Wild with five defensemen against San Jose.

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