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

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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.

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.

Outdoor game rumors: Jets host Oilers, Red Wings at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings face off during the first period of the Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.

A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.

Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.

(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)

Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.

The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.

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Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.

Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?

Ducks likely to recall Khudobin after Gibson injury

Chicago Blackhawks' Richard Panik (14), of Slovakia, collides with Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Chicago. Anaheim won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.

The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).

The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.

Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:

The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”

Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.