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Updated: January 16th, 2013 11:07pm
Zulgad: Wild coach is going to spend shortened season adjusting on fly

Zulgad: Wild coach is going to spend shortened season adjusting on fly

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by Judd Zulgad

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild hasn't played a regular-season game yet, but already coach Mike Yeo is giving thought to re-evaluating his approach.

That's what happens when you're faced with a lockout that lasts three-plus months and leaves only a week for training camp with no exhibition games.

After watching the Red squad beat the White 4-1 on Wednesday night in a scrimmage at Xcel Energy Center that featured players from the Wild and Houston Aeros of the AHL, Yeo admitted he was debating whether to have his team practice on Thursday.

On one hand, Yeo wasn't pleased with some system breakdowns he saw from his players. But on the other, he also realizes that he wants his players fresh when they open the 48-game regular season on Saturday night against the Colorado Avalance at home.

"First and foremost, we have a plan in place," Yeo said. "We might have to re-evaluate. I want to see how the guys feel after this and into (Thursday) morning. It's starting already. Do we need rest (Thursday) or do we need practice? Energy and making sure that we're physically going to be ready for game one is going to be first on the list. But there are some things we need to work on, clearly.

" ... The plan right now is to have a practice (Thursday) and work on some aspects of our game that we need to get better at. But it's going to be this way all season long. Communicate with our players, try to assess where we're at physically."

What Yeo doesn't want to do is practice for the sake of it and get no results.

"If we go out and we can only practice at half speed and the focus is only halfway there, then we're getting nothing out of it," he said. "You know me. I like to practice, I like to practice for real. So if we feel that we can have a quality practice (Thursday) and our players, it's not going to hurt them by going on the ice, then we'll do that."

Yeo's uncertainty of how to approach matters likely is going to be a season-long issue and that just won't be the case in Minnesota. It will happen all over the NHL.

This season is going to be anything but normal and it will be of the utmost importance not to fall into a tailspin, considering any type of slump could quickly take a team out of playoff contention.

Yeo does take comfort in the fact that assistant coach Rick Wilson was a member of the Dallas Stars staff in 1994-95, when a work stoppage also reduced the schedule to 48 games. Two other Wild assistants, Darby Hendrickson and Darryl Sydor, were playing in the league at the time.

"I will lean heavily on those guys," Yeo said. "But communication between our staff and our players, it's going to be extremely important this year. Again, it's something (where) you always have a plan but we're going to have to make sure that every day you re-evaluate and figure out what you need."

That will be important not only to keep players sharp but also to keep them healthy.

In a scrimmage in which defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored twice and added an assist, Yeo gave the quick hook to Tom Gilbert after the veteran defenseman injured his groin in the first period.

"It was nothing serious," Yeo said. "It's all precautionary. Just making sure that he'll be ready to go come Saturday night. We just didn't want to put him back out there. If this was the regular season, he would have (played). But at this point it's just making sure that we don't put him out there in a situation where he could hurt himself further."

Taking these types of precautions won't be unusual at all, especially in the early going.

Winger Zach Parise, who along with Ryan Suter played in a game-like situation at Xcel Energy Center for the first-time since the two signed $98 million, 13-year contracts last July, was held off the score sheet on Wednesday. So were Parise's linemates, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, who played for the victorious Red team.

Suter, who also was on the Red squad, had an assist on the opening goal of the game and logged 22 minutes.

Although Yeo might not have been completely happy, Parise seemed encouraged.

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "When you're away for as long as we were, you have to get back into your habits, into your routine that you go through. Playing a night game, playing in front of fans. It's different than what we had been doing, so for us to be able to do that and have a great turnout with the crowd (the announced attendance was 13,096), I think we got a lot out of it.

" ... I think we were pretty sharp for that being our first somewhat of a game. I thought we did a good job of being in our positions and that's the most important thing right now. Just to make all that stuff become second nature, but I thought all in all it wasn't bad. It was pretty good."

If you listen to Yeo, come Saturday, pretty good isn't going to cut it in his eyes.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 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