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Yeo, Wild Fine-Tuning The Defensive Zone

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

As the Wild go through the early season checklist of shoring up different elements of its game, the focus in practice on Tuesday was the defensive zone.

It's an area the Wild has excelled in the past, so an area that it would like to get back to its old standards after returning from a three-game, West coast road trip.

"Certainly one focal point for us is how we come into our defensive zone coverage," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "It resulted in a few goals against last game, and usually an area where we're pretty sharp."

All three goals scored against the Wild by the Ducks on Sunday at even-strength came within 10 seconds of a zone entry. The Wild controlled possession for much of the second and third periods, but were done in by quick offense following entries.

"Our gap can be better, and that's not always on the defensemen," Yeo said. "Our D can hold lines a bit better, but quite often, it's where we're losing pucks, or not having an F3 or the back-pressure that we need."

Getting five players on the same page, moving cohesively is key to disrupting clean entries, and winning back possession.

"It's a lot on us; as much as it's on the d-men, it's on us as well," Jason Zucker said. "Making sure that we're coming back and doing the right things, and helping out."

Communication was an element some players said needed improvement after the 4-1 loss against Anaheim.

"It's a group thing that I think we can do a better job of how, but how we come into our defensive zone, the communication we have in stopping in position, and making sure that we don't have any circle," Yeo said. "When you circle that's when you swing out of position.

"It's kind of typical for this time of year, but we just have to make sure we continue to improve on it."

What does benefit the Wild is how early it is. Minnesota has collected seven out of a 10 possible points, but still feels it has plenty of room to grow.

"It's early in the year; you're not where you want to be in any part of your game, especially the defensive side," Ryan Suter said. "Our team focuses a lot on the defensive side of it. For us it's just the basics, and the other thing is we have a couple of days here, so we want to try to get back into the battle mode."

Koivu Line Impresses

Getting back to a point from this weekend, Mikko Koivu's line with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker was absolutely dominant against the Ducks. Koivu said it was frustrating to only score one goal with that kind of performance—Koivu hit the crossbar on the power play—but if the process remains the same, the trio is confident the results will bear out.

"We're moving in the right direction for sure," Zucker said of his line. "The second and third period last game were really good."

How 'really good' were the second and third periods for the line? They played just about every shift together at even-strength, and over the final 40 minutes, Koivu, Zucker, and Niederreiter had shot-attempt differentials of +24, +24, and +22, respectively. 

What that means is, whenever the three were on the ice, Minnesota was attempting lots of shots (roughly 26), while not conceding many against (about two).

"I don't think the score dictated what the actual game was, but overall it was a good game for us," Zucker said. "But we're not satisfied with playing a good game. We want to make sure that we're playing well, and winning, and getting points. Hopefully we can carry that into this week."

Factor in that the Ducks, who had last change on home ice, were deploying Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Carl Hagelin primarily against Koivu's line, and the performance was all the more impressive.

"If you're not doing the right things, things aren’t going to happen for you," Zucker said. "If you're doing the right things, they'll happen. They may not happen right away, they may not be two games from now, but if you keep building those good habits, and end up doing the right things, then good things will happen."

Be sure to check out the latest Wild PONDcast with Kevin Falness, who caught up with forward Ryan Carter. Listen here.

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