Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/13/11
By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Sports Writer ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Wild are playing for their third head coach in four seasons, they haven't won a playoff series in nearly nine years and their roster is mostly unrecognizable to sports fans outside of -- or even in -- the state. Here they are, though, leading the NHL with 43 points at their 30-game mark. "There's a lot of belief right now that we're for real, and if there's a reason why we feel that way, it's because of the way we come to the rink and the way we prepare," center Kyle Brodziak said after Minnesota's seventh straight victory, Saturday at Phoenix. Brodziak, the third-line center, leads the team with 10 goals. In the league? He's tied for 40th, the most obvious sign of a balanced offense that has used a so-far unwavering commitment to new coach Mike Yeo's system to reach a 20-7-3 record. That's the best start in the franchise's 11-year history, thanks to three separate winning streaks of five games or more. "It's all pointed toward the players and the way that they came into camp and the attitude they brought right from day one," Yeo said after Monday's practice. "They're the ones that are out there laying it on the line. They're the guys that are out there blocking shots and paying the price, so the credit goes to those guys." The 37-year-old Yeo looks younger than half of his players, but he has commanded an unquestionable respect. "There's accountability. There's an exception here that we want to build a winning team and a winning culture and we just can't accept bad games," second-line center Matt Cullen said. "You're going to lose from time to time, but it's not going to be because of a lack of effort." At first glance, with Dany Heatley the biggest name and a team goal total of 2.5 per game that ranks just 22nd in the NHL, this is the same type of trapping, patient squad that Jacques Lemaire presided over. His teams generally got a lot out of a little skill, but beside the run to the Western Conference finals in 2003 they've had a perennially mediocre record since entering the league as an expansion franchise. But there are differences. Yeo raved about Brodziak's refusal to sacrifice his defensive positioning and tenacity despite his uncharacteristic scoring spurt, but from lines one to four this is as deep as the Wild have ever been. There is more skating and a noticeably stronger forecheck and less hesitation to shoot the puck. "A lot of teams play the same way," Cullen said. "It's a matter of being committed to it, and everybody's bought in." The entire system is as stocked with legitimate prospects as it has been in years, too, the product of several trades and signings general manager Chuck Fletcher has pushed through to supplement the three drafts he has supervised since taking over for the fired Doug Risebrough. Minnesota's minor league affiliate in Houston has the second-best record in the 30-team American Hockey League, and goalie Darcy Kuemper was picked Monday as the AHL's Player of the Week. Kuemper's honor was made possible when regular goalie Matt Hackett was recalled by the Wild last week as injury insurance. With Niklas Backstrom already bothered by a groin problem, Josh Harding hurt his neck just 71 seconds into the game at San Jose last Tuesday during a freak collision with a teammate's stick. So in went Hackett, who won his NHL debut and the game after that while stopping a combined 76 of 78 shots. Hackett, who set a record by starting his career with 102 minutes and 48 seconds without giving up a goal, was named the NHL's "Second Star" for the week. Good goaltending has long been the Wild's best attribute, from Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson in the early years to the Backstrom-Harding duo they've had more recently. They're sixth and seventh in the league, respectively, with a .932 save percentage, and Minnesota's 2.1 goals-per-game average is third in the NHL. The nets are only as sound as the defense in front of them, though, and the blue line has been another bright spot this season, despite the trade for Devin Setoguchi that sent All-Star Brent Burns to the Sharks. Puck-moving young players such as Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella have shined, playing for Yeo for another year. One of the reasons why Fletcher picked him to replace Todd Richards was the familiarity factor for their prospects. They learned Yeo's system with the Aeros in the AHL last season. The Wild have created some clear synergy between their team and their farm club, putting the call-ups in better position to play well when they're summoned. Staying healthy enough to withstand any midwinter lulls in performance will be important, as it is every year with every team. Harding has been cleared to play again, and bruising right wing Cal Clutterbuck will be back on the first line for Tuesday's game at Winnipeg after missing the last week with a lower-body injury. Three others who have been out longer were also on the ice for Monday's practice: left wing Guillaume Latendresse (concussion), defenseman Marek Zidlicky (concussion) and defenseman Justin Falk (upper body injury). For now, they'll be brought back slowly. The Wild have been playing fast enough not to miss them.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Amar'e Stoudemire announces retirement after signing one-day contract with Knicks

Report: Gregory failed multiple drug tests since suspension

Olympian Abby Johnston: Worst thing about Olympic village is no Pokemon

Reggie Bush reportedly closing in on contract with Bills

Report: Eric Berry planning to no-show training camp

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Eagles could have interest in Gordon if Browns trade him

Report: Fitzpatrick, Jets not likely to have deal before camp

Report: Anquan Boldin signs one-year deal with Detroit Lions

Formula One CEO's mother-in-law kidnapped in Brazil

Mike McCarthy ends weight talk, declares Eddie Lacy ‘ready’

Report: Redskins have discussed possibly signing Hardy

Padres reportedly making progress on Cashner trade

NFL Network to stream on PlayStation Vue

Report: Eagles’ Nigel Bradham charged for assaulting cabana boy

Rudy Gay underwent minor Achilles procedure this summer

Bashaud Breeland brought puppies to Washington camp

Tyler Johnson 'threw up a couple of times' over $50M deal

Should the Yankees hold a fire sale?

Five young soccer players to keep an eye on at Rio Olympics

Conor McGregor's coach predicts result of Nate Diaz rematch

Jordy Nelson starts camp on PUP list, no reason for panic?

Mark Dantonio denies MSU negatively recruits against PSU

Brett Favre selects wife Deanna as his Hall of Fame presenter

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

One Gotta Go: NBA players make tough choices on their favorite rappers

One Gotta Go: NBA Summer League is not about that Game of Thrones life

The top NHL free agents available as offseason winds down

WATCH: NBA jersey sponsors that need to happen

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker