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Wild Looking To Build Momentum Into Break

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

It's been nine straight games for the Minnesota Wild having earned at least a point in each (6-0-3).

It's a stretch that's seen the Wild win in many ways: via shutouts, offensive outburst, and special teams performances.

None of that is especially relevant though when Head Coach Mike Yeo talks about the upcoming stretch of games before the Christmas break. The Wild plays the Nashville Predators on Saturday, and then a back-to-back Monday and Tuesday against the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens.

"It's just real important that we don't get complacent, we don't start feeling too good about ourselves, and we remember the things that we're doing, and the reasons why we're having success," Yeo said.

It's a stretch in which, over the past eight games, the Wild has not allowed more than two goals. While the first seven games of that stretch saw the Wild average 2.17 goals per game, Minnesota has scored a combined 11 in its past two, 6-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks, and a 5-2 win against the New York Rangers.

"We don't look behind," Yeo said. "We've had some good games, and we've got some points, and that's nice, but if we're looking behind us at what we've done than we'll get blindsided from what's in front of us."

An area that Wild has shored up is special teams. The power play has been a major source of offense, scoring five goals in the past two games on eight opportunities.

"We have to find a way to bring it on the road now," Yeo said. "It's been outstanding at home for us this year, obviously we want to make sure we stay on top of that, but it's not just about scoring goals, it’s scoring goals at key times, and lately we've done that."

In 14 road games, the Wild has had 47 power plays, while at home, the Wild has had 48 power plays in 15 games. But in those road games the Wild's power play has converted at 12.8 percent, while at home, it sits at 30.4 percent.

The five power-play goals in the past two games have made it somewhat easier to overlook the penalty kill. The Wild did not commit any minor penalties against the Canucks, and then killed of both Rangers power play on Thursday.

"The power play is obviously clicking now, so it's nice that the PK can contribute," Chris Porter said. "Coming into the playoffs, special teams is what wins you series, so if we can keep building on what we've been doing, and build toward that, we'll be just fine in the second half."

A new addition to the penalty kill against New York was Jarret Stoll, playing in his Rangers debut.

Stoll took the first penalty to put the Wild shorthanded, though Yeo joked, "he almost helped us because we almost scored two shorthanded goals on that."

Yeo said he liked Stoll's game overall. He played 11:16, 1:06 of which shorthanded, and won 11-of-15 of his faceoffs, including the one shorthanded faceoff he took.

"When we had that kill late in the third period, it's just so huge when you can put a guy out there, he wins that faceoff, and the puck is down the ice," Yeo said. "We used him a lot for key defensive-zone faceoffs, we used him a lot against top lines, and [his] game was solid."

Special teams is an area where faceoffs can be so critical. The Wild scored two power-play goals against Vancouver directly off faceoff wins. By Stoll winning a faceoff and the Wild clearing the puck the length of the ice on a penalty kill, it forced the Rangers to re-enter the zone, and ate up a portion of the two minutes.

The Wild is beginning to put all of these things together consistently, but Yeo knows that can change in an instant.

"We talked about this stretch leading up to Christmas, and we talked about that mindset of taking it one game at a time, taking it one day at a time for that matter," Yeo said. "If you want to be at your best, you have to make sure you're focused on that day."

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