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  • The Wild are terrible at 3-on-3, and it's Mike Yeo's fault


    The NHL has switched to 3-on-3 overtimes, and it's wonderful. The amount of space is amazing, and there are constantly rushes one way or the other; fast, up-and-down hockey that is fun to watch. It's probably not much better than the shootout in terms of determining the best team, but it is definitely much more fun to watch, and if for that reason alone, I'm a big fan.

    Most teams seem to be finding a way to adjust to the new format and succeed at least some of the time. The Wild have only been to OT 4 times, but they have lost 3 of those 4.



    In OT, there is significantly more space than at 5-on-5. For this reason, both passing and skating become very important, with the emphasis on speed rather than agility; overtime is a footrace.

    However, in the absence of footspeed, passing and the ability to work together can be just as, if not more, effective. In fact, this approach has the advantage of creating multiple angles of attack and making the goalie move; it opens net space and makes goals easier to score. This kind of passing is usually not the "thread-the-needle" that's needed with the crowding of 5v5 hockey, but rather good vision and awareness of your teammates to know when and where to pass.


    The Wild have not chosen a single strategy, largely due to their roster. While some members of the Wild are quite fast (Parise, Zucker, Nino) others are not as quick on their feet (Pominville, Granlund, Coyle).

    This is a strength of the Wild; they have different ways to attack and can adjust to match their opponents. Alternatively, Yeo could throw out one of the most dominant lines in hockey and let Zucker-Koivu-Nino do their thing.

    They have not. The Wild are 1-3 in OT, and that is Mike Yeo's fault. Let's look at who was used in the 4 games the Wild went to OT. For the sake of brevity (these tables could get REALLY long), I'll only list players with more than 30 seconds on the ice, and ignore goalies.







    There are few patterns after just four games, but we can see a few things. Ryan Suter is consistently towards the top of the list, as is Mikko Koivu. Nino Niederreiter is seeing a fair amount of time, and Jason Zucker is usually earning himself a few minutes as well.

    There are some concerns. Firstly, Ryan Suter is anything but offensively gifted. He is defensively reliable, yes, but in OT, one defenseman isn't going to stop anything, and his ability to exit the zone with an outlet pass is not as valuable if only because there's much more space; fewer needles need threading.

    Another concern is the developing pattern of one player being played significantly more than any other. While this was not the case in the first game (against the kings) a single player is being played much more than anyone else. Why? the Wild's roster perhaps lacks depth (particularly given injuries) but to play Jason Zucker a full 60 seconds more than any other forward is simply asinine.

    Yeo seems to have looked at the first loss against the Kings and learned the wrong lesson. The Wild lost that game, but they rolled 2 lines with good scoring threat and defensive capability as well; yet after one loss, he has started mixing and matching seemingly at random.

    Perhaps most damning of all, the Wild's top line (by role if not by name) of Zucker-Koivu-Nino has yet to see the ice together in OT. This is, almost certainly, because none of them are a defensemen. This is understandable... but it is curious at best as to why they haven't at least been given a chance.


    Time to Panic?

    No one is calling for Yeo's head based on OT performances; four games is far too small a sample size to do anything drastic. However, Yeo seems to have changed his employment plan after the first loss, but has not altered it since the subsequent games.

    Yeo's strategy in OT is unclear: he is not putting out the Wild's best players, nor is he putting out the players whom limit shots against the best. He seems to be trying to find a combination that works, which is understandable, but he also seems to be holding onto some idea that a defensive defensemen is a good idea. On the contrary, in OT you want a defensemen who drives offense. Ryan Suter does many things well, but generating offense is not one of them.


    What Next?

    What is most bewildering about Yeo's OT decisions is that they are not all bad; one minute he gives Jason Zucker, a very dangerous player, tons of time, but then he puts Nate Prosser on the ice in OT. He'll give Nino Niederreiter time, but handcuff him with Mikael Granlund or Ryan Suter.

    By far the WIld's most dangerous line (especially without Parise) has been the Nino-Zucker-Mikko line. Yet, that line hasn't seen any time together in OT. This is undoubtedly because Yeo wants a defenseman on the ice, which is understandable. In the first game, Yeo tried Zucker and Koivu with Spurgeon, but abandoned that after the Wild lost and began giving Suter time in OT.

    In addition, the Wild have been extending shifts more and more as they get into OT- meaning while the other team has fresh legs, the Wild are winded and slow. On top of that, the Wild's line changes are sloppy and disorganized at best, often leaving one player alone to try to fend off the other three.

    For a coach whose hallmark is supposed to be organization and systemic solidity, none of that is clear in overtime. The Wild seem to have no idea what they are doing, when to leave the ice, or what to do when they are there. This cannot stand.

    The Wild have good offensive players; Yeo has the tools. I also believe he has the knowledge to make the Wild an effective team in overtime, he simply hasn't done it. Yeo is trying to play 3v3 like 5v5, and that isn't going to work. Yeo needs to build a line with skills that cater to the open ice and speed of 3v3.

    On the one hand, it would be exciting to see Nino-Koivu-Zucker take the ice. The problems with that grouping is the inability of most forwards to skate backwards in the event of a turnover; it's unlikely Yeo leaves his goalie that exposed. If you were to swap one of those players out for a similarly-skilled defensemen? Scandella provides the skating ability and physicality to combine well with one of those two. If Zucker were to be dropped, Spurgeon or Dumba could slot in well.

    The Wild have the roster and players to be a dangerous team with that much space; a player like Vanek could do very well with his combination of passing and shooting ability. Yeo simply hasn't found a combination of players that works, but he doesn't seem to know it, and that's the real problem facing the Wild.

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