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Wild’s Third Line Wants To Continue To Build Against Pens

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

Thomas Vanek, Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter had never practiced together before Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo put them together on a line against the Boston Bruins. It took the trio less than five minutes to make an impact on the game.

After a dump into the corner, Brodziak finished a check on B’s defenseman Zach Trotman. The hit forced a bad pass and Vanek stole the puck from his defensive partner, Matt Bartkowski. Vanek found Niederreiter, who was cutting through the slot, with a tape-to-tape pass for a goal.

With the Wild trailing by two goals in the next game against the San Jose Sharks, Justin Fontaine was put on the wing with Vanek and Brodziak in the third period. The trio sparked a third-period comeback, as Brodziak scored twice on highlight-reel passes from Vanek.

Brodziak, Vanek and Niederreiter were together again for the line’s first full practice, as the Wild skated today at Xcel Energy Center. With four games in six days last week, the team had only morning skates and one optional practice.

So, it wasn’t their time on ice that helped them find chemistry—it was more of a spark-creating combustion.

“We’ve been able to read off each other so far; we haven’t had a whole lot of time to develop much chemistry, I think today was our first actual practice together,” Brodziak said. “It’s tough to really explain how that is, hopefully we’ll continue to grow.”

Vanek, for one, is feeling more comfortable in the Wild’s systems and style of play. After signing with Minnesota as a free agent in the summer, he started slowly, but has found his groove of late. The Austrian has seven points (1-6=7) in his last five games and is a plus-3 during that stretch.

He said that the line has been communicating on and off the ice, which has helped them better read off each other at game speed.

“To me, you’ve got to talk a lot,” Vanek said. “I think Brodzy’s game is good and I can read off him pretty well. I think what you have to do, and it doesn’t matter which guys you play with, is constant talk on the bench after every shift and learn their routes and have them learn mine.”

Brodziak has the center’s responsibility of playing down low in the defensive zone. On the rush, he wants to open up lanes for his skilled wingers. Both of his goals against San Jose came by driving to the net.

“When I see my wingers get the puck on the wall I’ve got to be driving through the middle, whether that’s in the neutral zone or in the offensive zone,” Brodziak said. “If anything, it will open something up, either by pushing the D back or opens up the neutral zone.”

Yeo likes that the line is producing and piling up points, but said they’ve been doing the little things, which has helped the team earn wins.

“They’ve been on the positive side of the offensive side of things and that’s what we need from them,” Yeo said. “Especially with Thomas on that line, it brings a different complexion to it.

“They’ve been doing things the right way, they’re not cheating they’re not doing it by just focusing on offense, they’re taking care of our end too.”

Prior to the Boston game, Brodziak had been a healthy scratch in five-straight games. Even though he wasn’t playing, he kept a good attitude until he had a chance to get back into the lineup. The 30-year-old took advantage of his opportunity.

“One of the things about being a good team is you’re going to have sacrifices,” Yeo said. “It doesn’t mean you have to be completely happy about it, but at the same time you have to have the right attitude and you have to control what you can control, and that’s what he’s done.”

Wild PK Key

The Wild’s penalty kill will be put to the test tomorrow as the team ends its three-game home stand against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Through 10 games, the Pens’ power play is converting at an eye-popping 41.9 percent.

It is highly unlikely that the Penguins can keep up that rate for an entire regular season, so the Wild hopes it’s the team to bring them back into the stratosphere. The Pens, of course, are led by two of the League’s most deadly offensive players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby leads the NHL in points (7-11=18), while Malkin ranks tied for third (5-10=15).

“They can hurt you in a lot of ways, look at what their special teams is doing right now,” Yeo said. “That’s a dangerous team from top to bottom.”

Minnesota’s PK is fourth in the NHL (89.3 percent). The team’s efficiency can be attributed to the skaters on the ice, and the goaltender, working together as a unit.

“Everybody has to be aggressive,” Brodziak said. “If one guy isn’t aggressive then it’s going to break down our whole kill. Everybody done a good job of staying on the same page with that so far.”

Carter/Ballard Skate

Both defenseman Keith Ballard and forward Ryan Carter returned to practice today. Yeo said that he’d have to wait until tomorrow for a status update on Carter. Ballard, who has been out with an illness since Oct. 21, is not expected to play tomorrow.

Matt Cooke didn’t skate today and is not expected to be ready by tomorrow.

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