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Tight Defense Making Things Easier For Wild Goalies

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

COLORADO -- With Devan Dubnyk injured, Darcy Kuemper will make his fourth start of the season on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche. 



Kuemper relieved Dubnyk in a 3-0 Wild win against Colorado on Saturday. He played the final 29:05, stopping nine shots, in a game he said played out in a way that was helpful when coming off the bench. 



"Especially a night like last game where you're coming off the bench," Kuemper said. "You've been sitting around, so your legs aren't feeling as great as they can be.

"But the team plays the way they did, and it allows you to see the puck, and slowly build into it, it makes it a lot easier."



The way Minnesota has played during its current three-game winning streak — the Wild has allowed 79 shots on goal — has made life easier in general for its goalies. 



"It's a big difference," Jason Zucker said. "I'm not a goalie, but talking to them, and being around a little while, it makes you realize the game becomes easier for those guys if you're doing the right things offensively and defensively, whether it's in your zone or the offensive zone."



That will be the objective again on Monday at Pepsi Center when the Wild plays the second half of a back-to-back, but Head Coach Mike Yeo said the result on Saturday doesn't mean much now.

"We did a good job last game, but that doesn't mean we'll do a good job tonight," Yeos said. "We have to stay focused on the things that we were doing, and if there are some adjustments, we'll have to be able to react to that quickly."

What the Wild has done, according to Yeo and players, is return to "Minnesota Wild Hockey," with tight defensive games and a transition that helps drive puck possession.

"It was important for us to get reset for how we have to be successful as a team," Yeo said. "In terms of our defensive play, our structure, the detail in our game, and our puck management."


A big element to that game is puck possession, which directly feeds into the Wild's defensive identity.



"One hundred percent; if you have the puck, they can't score," Zucker said. "That's the best way to think and look at it. If you have puck possession in the offensive zone, and cycling, and getting scoring-chances, they're not scoring on the other end. That's how it correlates, and that's how it goes together."

Against teams like Colorado, who Yeo said after the Wild's win on Saturday, "Doesn’t' take them a whole lot of opportunities. They get one, and they can burn you on it," playing 200 feet away from your goal mitigates that risk and bottles up that skill.

"Definitely when we're on our game we're tight, and whenever we're playing our best we're defensively structured and responsible," Kuemper said. "That usually leads to a lot more offense. That's our identity, and that's the way we've got to keep going."

PARISE'S PLAY



When he sustained a sprained MCL on Nov. 5 Zach Parise, at the time, was the Wild's leading goal-scorer. No player has scored more goals than Parise on Minnesota over the past three seasons, and the ultra-competitive left winger puts high expectations on himself.



"There's a process to it," Yeo said. "He's starting to look quicker, and certainly it takes a bit of time conditioning-wise, and that's starting to come around, too."



His line with Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville is beginning to find success. Pominville has goals in three of his past four games, and the trio generated a number of quality scoring chances against Colorado on Saturday.

One of the problems Parise faced, according to Yeo, was missing games 13 through 20 comes at a time when the NHL is transitioning from an early-season phase to when players and teams are finding their groove.

"When you came out of the lineup, the league keeps getting faster, so plays are developing quicker," Yeo said. "You saw that early in some of his execution, how pucks were kind of bouncing off his stick, or some plays that are a little bit uncharacteristic of him, but we're starting to see that he's starting to execute at that speed now."

Here is the Wild's projected lineup:

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuNino Niederreiter

Zach PariseMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Thomas VanekCharlie CoyleJustin Fontaine

Chris PorterErik HaulaRyan Carter

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Marco ScandellaJonas Brodin

Nate ProsserMatt Dumba

Darcy Kuemper

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