Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Minnesota Wild

Wild Works on Tightening Neutral Zone

Minnesota gets back to basics defensively

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after Monday's outdoor practice that he felt his team started to fall into some bad habits during the final couple games of its 12-game winning streak.

On Tuesday, the Wild went about addressing those flaws as it preps to begin a three-game road trip to the West Coast against San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim beginning Thursday against the Sharks. 

Boudreau said he thought the Wild got a little too loose through the neutral zone, especially the past two games against the Islanders and Blue Jackets. 

Minnesota was able to overcome its deficiencies against New York by scoring six goals in a 6-4 win. But the issue reemerged against the red-hot Blue Jackets, a game the Wild lost 4-2.

"It's understandable. When you're winning a lot of games in a row and we're scoring goals, you start leaning on scoring goals and cheating to score goals instead of getting back to what you were supposed to be doing and letting it all come naturally," Boudreau said. "I think we started to do that the last couple of games, which it was why there was a 7-4 game [in New York on Dec. 23] and losing 4-2.

"We gotta get back to what makes us a really good team and that's defending and [letting] everything else happen for itself."

Video: Bruce Boudreau Practice

The Wild has no interest in getting into an up-and-down game with the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, who all have plenty of firepower up front. 

While the Sharks rank 20th in the NHL in goals per game (2.49), the presence of Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton and former Wild defenseman Brent Burns make them capable of breaking out at any moment.

As former Ducks coach, Boudreau said he's seen what these teams are capable of firsthand.

"I think I know these guys pretty well," Boudreau said. 

Wild defenseman Marco Scandella acknowledged that things had gotten a little soft through the middle of the ice, but that Tuesday's practice was beneficial in that regard.

"It was a great step in the right direction," Scandella said. "We had a tough practice, worked on [the] little things in our game. I think that's what slips a little bit when you start winning a lot of games in a row. It almost feels easy and that's dangerous to our game."

Schroeder moves up

Practice began on Tuesday with forward Jordan Schroeder skating on the Wild's top line with Zach Parise and Eric Staal. While Schroeder has moved up to that grouping at points in each of the past three games, Tuesday was the first time he began the day and got an entire practice in with those linemates. 

Video: Eric Staal Practice

The Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula lines remained untouched while Jason Pominville skated on a line with Chris Stewart and Tyler Graovac.

Boudreau said Schroeder's speed has made a difference with that line and hopes it can be a difference maker moving forward.

"It's the only real line that we're trying to find the right combinations for Zach and Eric," Boudreau said. "I figured that if we're going to start him there against San Jose, we could get a couple of good practices under our belt and maybe the lines of communication would be a little bit better."

Gabriel recalled

With the Wild headed out of town for five days, the club recalled forward Kurtis Gabriel from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Tuesday.

Gabriel is expected to be the extra forward on the trip, but provides the Wild options against Los Angeles and Anaheim, two of the bigger, more physical teams in the Western Conference.

Gabriel has one assist in 10 games with Minnesota this season and is third on the team with 24 penalty minutes.

Video: Charlie Coyle Practice

View More