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

Nov 11, 2013, 3:52 PM EDT

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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.

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