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Wild's PK Set For Good Test; Parise A Possibility

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

TAMPA BAY – Forward Zach Parise said he felt "very good" after morning skate in Tampa Bay, and a decision will be made later on Saturday on whether he will play against the Lightning.

Parise sat out the Wild's game on Thursday, a 3-1 win against the St. Louis Blues, due to a knee injury.

"I haven't talked to the coach yet, but I'll go talk to him, tell him how it went, how I felt, and we'll go from there," Parise said.

After going through a full practice on Friday, Parise said he's trying to manage wanting to get back in the lineup, and allowing the injury to fully heal so it doesn't linger on through the season. 

"For sure you have to trust the player, you have to trust the trainers and the doctors, and if there was a concern of greater damage, then we wouldn't put him out there," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "But obviously he's a pretty darn good player, and if he's available, we'd like to have him in the lineup."

Forward Erik Haula also participated in morning skate after sitting out of practice on Friday, but Yeo also said a decision hasn’t been made on whether he will play against the Lightning.

The Wild also recalled forward Jordan Schroeder from Iowa on Saturday and placed goaltender Darcy Kuemper on Injured Reserve.

"We'll divulge our lineup at game time," Yeo said.


When the calendar flipped to December, something began to click for the Wild. 

None of the players or Yeo can pin down specifically what happened, other than the defensive efforts have been more in line with Minnesota Wild Hockey.

During that stretch, the Wild has allowed 17 even-strength goals in 14 games, as Minnesota has jumped to the top of the league as far as five-on-five against per game at 1.44 per game.

"It's pretty easy to tell what our game looks like when we're playing well," Yeo said. "The pace of our game has kind of picked up, the structure and detail of our game has been there, and for us, it's a matter of how we execute."

It's something Yeo said on Friday, "has to be a staple of our game," and it's something forward Jarret Stoll has seen the dividends of first hand.

"You have to be committed to do it; it's not easy," Stoll said. "You have to block shots, you have to play in those hard areas, take a hit to make a play, stuff like that. 

"The league is very, very skilled now, and every team seems like they're quick and skilled."

Stoll was a member of two Stanley Cup winning teams with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. Each of those teams finished second in the NHL in even-strength goals against per game. Over the past five years, every Stanley Cup winner has finished in the top four in the NHL in even-strength goals against.

"We want to play as a unit of five, and we do that both with and without the puck," Yeo said. "When we're on top of our game, we like to pressure, we like to be an aggressive team in how we defend."

One of the Wild's latest challenges on Saturday against Tampa Bay will be stopping one the league's most lethal power-play scorers in forward Steven Stamkos. Should the Wild find itself shorthanded on Saturday, knowing where Stamkos is at all times will critical.

"From a killing perspective, you have to know they want the puck to go through him," Ryan Carter said. "You do some things like maybe try to keep the puck on the other side of the ice, but he's still dangerous if it gets through there on a seam pass, and he puts it in."

Since 2009, Stamkos is second in the NHL with 94 power play goals.

"It would be good to stay off the penalty kill tonight," Yeo said. " A guy like that, he still finds a way. You can talk about taking him away, you can talk about doing all these other things, and obviously that creates other threats out there, but guys like that, they still find a way."

Carter said it's a fine line to walk. With other forwards like Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan on the power play, Minnesota wants to provide Stamkos with the requisite attention, but not over-compensate.

"It seems like it's that way not just on power plays, but throughout games," Carter said. "You want to give teams respect, but not too much, and you want to give players respect, but not too much.

"The way we kill with pressure, it's kind of more of a scheme thing where we'll try to keep pucks on opposite ways, but we're not going to shadow a guy and leave ourselves exposed in other areas."

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