The Minnesota Wild will take a much more veteran lineup to its second preseason game tomorrow night. But before traveling to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins, the Wild held a special-teams specific practice today at Xcel Energy Center.
The power play is something that the club could improve upon from a season ago. Last year, the Wild ranked 16th (17.9 percent) in the National Hockey League. Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo thought the team was strong at even strength, but to get to the next level, needs to make progress on the PP.
“We have to have the goal, every game coming in, being plus-1 on the power play or better,” Yeo said. “We’re a very strong 5-on-5 team, so if we do that we’re giving ourselves a great chance to win a hockey game.”
In the second half of practice, after an ice clean, the team split into two teams, Green and White, and took five-minute turns on the man advantage. Yeo wanted competition against penalty killers applying pressure. The contest was a good introduction to game-like situations, even if there might be some changes to the units before tomorrow’s game against the Pens.
“Not 100 percent that those are the groups you’ll be seeing going forward, but a good way of splitting them up and giving them the chance to go head-to-head,” Yeo said. “What I like about it is that it brings up the intensity level and that’s what you want. If you’re going to work power play, then you want to go against a penalty kill that’s really trying to shut you down.”
One player who will have an impact on the team’s PP is newcomer Thomas Vanek. One of the reasons the Wild signed him as a free agent is because of his power play prowess. Since breaking into the League in 2005-06, he’s third amongst all players in power play goals (113).
“It’s one of my strengths to be around the net,” Vanek said. “I think we have a lot of good players (on the power play) and I think I can add to it.”
Vanek used his size to establish positioning in front of the net, and has a knack for redirecting pucks and banging in rebounds. The winger was on a unit with Mikko Koivu, Justin Fontaine, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon.
Defenseman Ryan Suter, who knows a thing or two about getting pucks on net from the point, went against Vanek in practice and noted his presence in front of the cage.
“He’s so good in front of the net,” Suter said. “He can get his stick on anything that comes near him with redirecting and making the little plays in tight.
“That’s where he gets a lot of his goals.”
On the other side of the ice, the Green squad boasted a top unit of Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba, spreading the wealth of skill between the teams.
While some players might have to grow accustom to being the second shift over the boards on the man advantage, Yeo believes that dividing the skill into two units will put more pressure on opponents.
“One area we can improve over last year is scoring with the second half of the power play,” Yeo said. “The way we had it today, at the very least, we’d be a 1A, 1B team.”
Both Parise and Suter said that the man advantage was really good at times last season, but hit rough patches of inconsistency. The club is trying to avoid that this season and wants to be more fluid.
“Sometimes you don’t move the puck quick enough, and from a penalty killing standpoint that’s pretty easy,” Parise said. “Compare it to when it’s going well to when it’s not, we’re not shooting the puck enough and holding onto it way too long and letting the other team recover.
“That’s one of the things we really have to concentrate on.”
Wild Lineup in the Burgh
Minnesota will take 22 players (13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders) to Pittsburgh, so two will not skate against the Penguins. After skating today, Fontaine is expect to be in. Here’s what the lineup could look like tomorrow:
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is expected to get two periods, while Ilya Bryzgalov will get one.