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Special Teams Working Overtime Early in Preseason

Both power play and penalty killing units getting a workout through first four exhibition games

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- The frustration inside the Wild dressing room is palpable. Through the first four games of the exhibition season, Minnesota has surrendered 30 power play chances to its opponents. 

Players' frustration is multi-fold; they haven't yet been able to get into a real flow so far in the preseason. Special teams, which hasn't been a staple of practice thus far, has been worked on extensively in games. Evaluation has been difficult.

"I know the game we played here on Saturday night, it seemed like every time we tried to get a 5-on-5 shift, there was a power play or a penalty kill one way or the other," said Wild forward Jason Zucker. "We've gotta be smarter with our sticks and just try to stay out of the box as best we can. 

"I know they're experimenting right now with what that line is. A lot of guys are crossing it. It's a feeling out process and we've gotta figure it out sooner rather than later."

While the Wild is not the only team struggling to grasp the increase in penalties being called, the sheer number of calls has impacted the outcomes of its games, both positively and negatively.

Video: Wild Talk Special Teams Work

Minnesota killed all eight Colorado power plays in Saturday's 2-1 victory at Xcel Energy Center.

It also killed the first power play chances the Avalanche had in Denver on Sunday, but eventually the constant grind of killing caught up to it, as Nathan MacKinnon scored a pair of third-period power-play goals, making what was a pretty even game seem much more lopsided.

"We can't continually take 10 penalties because what it does is it ruins the flow and tires everybody out and we can't get anything going offensively," Wild assistant coach John Anderson reiterated on Monday. "I think we've had 18 penalties the last two games and we haven't had a 5-on-5 goal."

Minnesota's lone goal Sunday came via the power play, as did each of its two tallies Saturday versus the Avalanche. 

Success on the power play will have a major effect on how the Wild fares this season. But success this early in the exhibition campaign should be taken with a grain of salt. While Minnesota will work more on its power play over the final week of training camp, the Wild and others haven't spent much time on the penalty kill either.

Anderson said a bulk of that work will begin over the next couple of days. 

For now, Anderson said he hopes to see a little more 5-on-5 play Tuesday when the Wild travels to Dallas to take on the Stars in exhibition game No. 5. 

"I'd like to see a little better net-front presence. We have to get some greasy goals down low. If we don't have guys going to the net because they're too tired or not with the lines they're supposed to be, no familiarity," Anderson said. "We have to stop the excuses here. We have to stay out of the box and play the game that [Wild coach Bruce Boudreau] wants us to play."

Boudreau remains away

Boudreau missed the Wild's exhibition game in Denver on Sunday and will not be with the team in Dallas as he continues to handle family business in Toronto.

Boudreau's brother, Bryan, passed away suddenly on Saturday of a heart attack. 

"He's good. It's a tough time for him right now. He's a pretty resilient guy. I think he's concerned about his mom a little bit. He's doing fine," said Anderson, a close friend of Boudreau for the past three decades. "Everybody has been really nice and I know he appreciates the condolences and the sympathies and stuff like that. He's OK."

Halfway home

The 10-minute mark of the second period on Sunday in Denver marked the official halfway point of the exhibition season. 

After two wins against Winnipeg and a split against Colorado, the Wild embarks on its final week of training camp before the regular season begins Oct. 5 in Detroit.

On the docket is the game against the Stars on Tuesday, a contest against the Blues in Kansas City on Thursday and a final home game Saturday versus Dallas.

During that stretch, the Wild's roster -- currently at 37 -- is expected to decrease dramatically as Minnesota gets closer and closer to its opening night lineup.

"You get that feeling, you get the sense as you get closer to the team and get back to the routine, of what it's going to be [like] during the season," said Wild captain Mikko Koivu. "In a way, it kind of gets easier. Your mindset will be more into the game and into the systems. I think everybody is waiting for that."

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