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Yeo bites his tongue, accepts more risk in Wild’s offensive game

Nov 11, 2013, 3:52 PM EDT

mikeyeogetty Getty Images

Before we get to the crux of the post, let’s go back in time a bit.

Back in January of 2012, then-Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky made a few waves when he publicly took issue with his head coach’s insistence on playing “easy hockey.”

Zidlicky, an offensive type, had been a healthy scratch for three straight games under Mike Yeo, and the veteran blue-liner wasn’t happy about it.

“I can’t change my style,” said Zidlicky. “That’s what I know. That’s for sure. He wants to play easy hockey. I tried everything what he wants, but apparently it doesn’t work.”

Zidlicky was soon traded to New Jersey, where his “involved” play helped the Devils make it all the way to Stanley Cup Final.

About a year later, the Wild’s conservative style under Yeo was under attack yet again, forcing star winger Zach Parise to come to his coach’s defense.

“We would all love a game where you can skate it in, curl up and make a play every time,” he said. “That’s not the way the game is played. When we do have the opportunity to skate it in, we all have the green light to do it, but not at the risk of having a D gap up in your face, trying to make a cute play at the blue line, turning it over and having them come right back down on us.”

Now fast forward to this morning, when in a happy coincidence we noted that the Wild’s possession stats have improved dramatically compared to last season.

We didn’t speculate why that may be (the post was mostly about the Leafs and their ongoing puck-possession challenges), but per the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, it turns out Yeo has come around to Zidlicky’s way of thinking.

“We weren’t going to take the next step, become a serious contender, unless we changed the way we played offensively,” Yeo said Sunday. “I have bit my lip a couple of times on the bench … but we’re going to live with the risk to get more reward.”

It may seem obvious that successfully carrying the puck into the attacking zone is preferable to dumping and chasing. Mike Babcock, for one, has been stressing the importance of possessing the puck for years; fortunately for the Red Wings, they’ve had the players to carry out his wishes.

Other coaches, however, have less tolerance for things like turnovers at the blue line, which is the major risk a team takes when it tries to carry the puck in.

Yeo, clearly, is trying to become more tolerant. And based on the Wild’s 10-4-4 record, that tolerance is paying off.

Not that the Wild are some sort of offensive juggernaut now — Minnesota ranks 18th in goals per game (2.61) — but that’s a slight improvement on last season (2.46) and a major improvement on 2011-12 when the team finished dead last in the NHL, averaging just 2.02 goals per game.

  1. sknut - Nov 11, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    It’s nice to see a coach and GM change their ways to improve. Shows that they are adaptable and willing to try something else to get to the next level. The Wild are much more entertaining team to watch and by keeping the puck, it also has helped the D and goalies face less pressure.

    • ajstolt09 - Nov 11, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      Certainly been a much more exciting game to watch this year! Now they need to bury a few more pucks and capitalize more on the increased possession

      • lordfletcher - Nov 11, 2013 at 8:57 PM

        and the Wild have been scoring at a much better pace recently. After their 3 straight one goal games 10+ ago, they have put up 2 / 3 / 5 / 5 / 4 / 4 / 5 / 2 / 3.

        You can tell Granlund has massively improved and Coyle is getting Koivu and Parise going on 5 on 5 play.

        I would guess by the end of the year they should be near an average of 3 or so

  2. twinwildflyer - Nov 11, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    Zidlicky would make a lot of turnovers making these risky plays, glad his is gone. Now if we could get rid of Stoner…

    • allday420ap - Nov 11, 2013 at 6:43 PM

      Agree with you about zidpicky, but Stoner is here to stay he has been good this year, plus everyone loves a stoner.

  3. steelers88 - Nov 11, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    I’m actually kind of surprised to here this I would think Yohe would be more aggressive in the offensive zone. He was a assistant of Dan Byslma. Dans philosophy is more aggressive in the offensive zone.

    • mp1131211 - Nov 11, 2013 at 7:07 PM

      watching the Wild play last year could be super frustrating (even this year sometimes) as all they did was dump, chase, cycle near the blue line, shoot from the point, and then go back on D when the other team got the rebound.

    • c9castine - Nov 12, 2013 at 1:04 PM

      he was, and learned some things under him. but he spent more time under michel therien, he was the guy that brought Yeo into the NHL too.

  4. dlhouse18 - Nov 11, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    Yeah possession time is great, but the real credit goes harding and the elite defense in front of him. Cant say enough good things about suter and i feel like hes the true cpt on the wild

    • allday420ap - Nov 11, 2013 at 6:44 PM

      Sutes is a a stud’s stud

    • mp1131211 - Nov 11, 2013 at 7:05 PM

      D’s been good, but scoring is up, too. Can’t win 1 goal games if your forwards aren’t producing.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Nov 11, 2013 at 7:41 PM

      I was going to mention Harding as well. Having someone play outstanding behind you allows some additional risk taking.

      While normally, you may want to cheer a player on and say “go Josh go!”, but inthis case, I think it’s more “Stop Josh Stop!!!”.

  5. clarke16 - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:47 AM

    I think Pominville has helped him understand that you don’t have to be one or the other… If it’s there–jump it…and if you don’t bury it in the back of the net, then bust ass back and go get it for another try. Pommers will prove to be the most important pick-up this team has made when it’s all over… Any coach would go geek to have a roster full of ‘em.

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