On first day of camp, Wild go right to work on power play
‘We’re not naive to the fact that our special teams were not good, (last season),’ coach Dean Evason said
ST. PAUL -- With three days of training camp before beginning a six-game preseason slate, the Minnesota Wild wasted no time in getting to work on their special teams, specifically a middling power play that went off the rails in the postseason.
In last season’s playoffs, St. Louis scored at least one power-play goal in every game on the way to a 4-2 first-round series victory over Minnesota, which had finished one spot ahead of the Blues in the NHL Western Conference Central division.
On the first day of training camp Thursday at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul, coach Dean Evason had his team work on a new power play.
“We’re going to work on the penalty kill tomorrow,” he added.
The Wild finished with a franchise-best 53 wins and 113 points in 2021-22 despite a power play ranked 18th (20.5%) in the 32-team NHL and a penalty kill that ranked 25th (76.1%). So, special teams didn’t exactly kill them during the regular season.
It was a different story in the postseason against a Blues team that had the NHL’s second-best power play (26.9) and fifth-best kill (84.1) all season. In the playoffs, St. Louis was 8 for 26 with a man advantage (30.7 percent), while the Wild were 4 for 24 (16.6).
“I think we’ve got to get our legs here on the amp and get our mind and hands into the game before we can worry about how to thread a pass through the seam on the power play,” winger Mats Zuccarello said. “But, obviously, we know we want to score every time we go out there.”
Asked how much time he and his staff spent on the power play this offseason, Evason said, “Tons. Tons of time.”
“We’re not naive to the fact that our special teams were not good, right?” he added. “So, it needs to be addressed.”
Evason said after working on the kill on Friday, the team will work on both Saturday.
“And it will be full on so that we’re, hopefully, progressing through the preseason with our special teams until we get to the regular season,” he said. “It has to get better, no question.”
During a six-game series loss to St. Louis in the first round of the postseason last year, the Wild gave up eight power-play goals to the Blues and scored four.
All Wild players were present and accounted for on the first day of training camp Thursday, but two were limited and won’t be ready for the start of the regular season Oct. 13 against the New York Rangers at Xcel Energy Center.
Forward Jordan Greenway and defenseman Jon Merrill are still recovering from injuries, general manager Bill Guerin said.
“But they’re progressing as they should,” he added.
Greenway, who signed a three-year, $9 million contract on Jan. 31, had surgery in July to repair an upper-body injury. Merrill, a defenseman who had four goals and 20 points in 69 games for the Wild last season, had arm surgery to repair an injury incurred in an IIHF World Championships game against Great Britain in May. Both were on the ice Thursday.
“We’re not babying them, either.” Evason said. “We’re trusting their judgment on how much they’re going to do, but obviously we didn’t have a lot of contact, a lot of battle drills. Tomorrow will be more of a defensive day, so we might have to have them opt out of a few things as far as the pushing and shoving and what have you. But both looked real good.”
Asked when he expected them to be ready, Evason deferred to Guerin. The GM’s estimate: “Five, 10 games in(to the season), they should be ready.”
The Wild had 58 players on the ice Thursday practicing in three separate workouts. In the first, defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin were paired together, and it might be a thing.
Brodin played with Matt Dumba last season, but the Wild are contemplating a change.
“The thought process is that Brodin and Spurgeon, the way they skate, you can play against the No. 1 person — the (Connor) McDavids and (Nathan) MacKinnons of the world,” Evason said. “Now, that’s not saying that one of our other D — (Jacob) Middleton and Dumba — can’t, but you all know how good Brodes’ and Spurge’s skating is. So, that’s our initial thought process.
“We’ve had one day. We may change our mind, but it looked good today.”
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