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Updated: October 1st, 2011 7:03pm
Zulgad: Can Wild provide wins during trying time in Minnesota sports?

Zulgad: Can Wild provide wins during trying time in Minnesota sports?

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Twins season was far worse than anyone thought possible. In the end, avoiding 100 losses turned out to be the only victory worth celebrating.

The Vikings are 0-3 entering Sunday's game at Kansas City and facing a reality that this is a rebuilding season.

The Timberwolves have been embarrassingly bad and while there might be optimism now that Rick Adelman has been hired as coach, there is no guarantee the NBA lockout won't wipe out the entire season.

That leaves the Minnesota Wild as the only real hope in Minnesota when it comes to the men's professional sports franchises in this market. There is no guarantee, however, they will be able to deliver.

The Wild hasn't made a playoff appearance in three seasons and it likely will be an uphill battle for new coach Mike Yeo's team to be one of the eight that qualifies for the postseason field in the always-competitive Western Conference.

Yeo, who took over after Todd Richards was fired following a two-year stint as coach, has spent training camp and the preseason installing a new system.

Results have been mixed.

The Wild won its first three preseason games, before dropping three in a row and then losing to Edmonton on Friday night in a shootout in their preseason finale.

"Nobody expected anybody to come in here and snap our fingers and all of a sudden we were going to be where we wanted to be," Yeo said. "We talked about it from day one. It's a process and I feel good about where we're going in this process."

That process will take the Wild to Duluth on Monday and Tuesday where they will conduct practices and what Yeo describes as "team building."

This will be a home stretch of practices for the Wild before they open the regular-season next Saturday night against Columbus at Xcel Energy Center.

"I think it's good we have a week to practice," Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom said after Friday's game. "There are a lot of things we have to work on, but I think it's a big difference from our first game."

Yeo plans to spend the coming days going over video with his players and working to fine-tune points of emphasis.

"The amount of stuff that we've crammed into these guys' melons in the last two weeks, it's not easy for them," Yeo said. "Especially in such a reactive game, a game where you have to be able to rely on your instincts and just go out there and play. But at the same time we can't just accept that. We have to continue to try and improve, continue to try to grow and grow our game."

Yeo, 38, comes across as demanding but realistic in that he understands installing a new system and getting everyone on the same page is going to take some time.

The issue is how long?

The Wild created some offseason buzz by acquiring forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in trades with San Jose. The two will be paired on a first line with center Mikko Koivu that is expected to give the Wild some rarely seen scoring punch at Xcel Energy Center.

There was a plethora of empty seats in that building during the preseason. That will be different on opening night , but can having a line that will bring people out of their seats put fans in them as the season progresses even if the Wild struggles?

While things are expected to be different with this team, the troubling lapses the Wild were prone to under Richards continued at times during the preseason.

The second period a week ago Friday against the Blue Jackets and the second period on Thursday at Columbus come to mind. The Wild played many of its regulars on Friday night against Edmonton but failed to hold a two-goal lead in the third period. That was in part due to sloppy play that preceded two quick goals.

Then there is the loss of defenseman Brent Burns, who was sent to San Jose in the Setoguchi deal on draft night. Fans in the Xcel Energy Center that evening gave their approval to the deal, but Burns didn't become an All-Star in 2010-11 for no reason. Finding defensemen who can go end-to-end like Burns isn't easy and the Wild no longer have a guy like that.

Right now, Yeo doesn't seem worried.

"I don't know but I'm 100 percent certain that there's probably 29 other coaches around the league that aren't perfectly happy with the way their team is playing right now," Yeo said. "That's why you have training camp.

"I've been fortunate enough to be around a lot of good teams, and I know one of the biggest keys to the success of those seasons, of being a good team is, yeah, you've got to get off to a good start. But more than anything else, you've got to continue to improve right from day one.

"You come in at a certain level but every day from there forward you've got to continue to improve. I'm really anxious to see how we come out of this week. Guys are going to feel good. ... We've got a great week of practice where we can continue to iron out some of the kinks in our game right now, and (I'm) really excited to get things going here." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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