Foster, Gilbert expected to boost Wild’s offense

TUESDAY’S  STORY LINE: The ability to shoot the puck from the blue line — it is something Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo has wanted all season.

The Wild defensemen have accumulated 74 points, last in the NHL. They have tallied only 11 goals, also last.

But Sunday against San Jose, the Wild shot the puck from the blue line and the results showed up on the scoreboard.

Minnesota defensemen took eight shots, and three resulted in goals. One went straight in; the other two were tipped in by forwards. That included Jed Ortmeyer’s game-winner; Ortmeyer re-directed a Jared Sprugeon shot from the blue line into the net.

When the Wild acquired defenseman Kurtis Foster on Friday, they knew they were getting: a player with a booming shot who isn’t afraid to use it.

Ironically, Foster, who has 70 shots in 38 games this season, didn’t have one shot on goal Sunday. Still, after the game Yeo joked Foster may have inspired the other defensemen to shoot.
“I knew that we were getting in the trade a guy that would shoot the puck from the blue line,” Yeo said. “I didn’t know it was going to make everybody else want to shoot the puck every time they touched it.”

No matter what the inspiration, Wild defensemen are getting the point: Get the puck on the net.

“I think if you get them down there, even if your shot might not go in, but like you saw last game it can get tipped or rebound chances and you can see that,” defenseman Jared Sprugeon said.

It isn’t only scoring Wild defensemen haven’t been providing; Minnesota has lacked the ability to transition the puck up the ice and through the neutral zone. Yeo has said the Wild defend well but that they are spending too much time defending.

For Minnesota’s system to be successful, the Wild need their defensemen moving the puck up the ice quickly.

“It’s a tough game to play if your defensemen aren’t moving the puck well,” Yeo said.

As Minnesota approached Monday’s trade deadline, a puck-moving defenseman was high on the team’s wish list, and that’s one of the main reasons Tom Gilbert is now with the team. Gilbert will be in the lineup Tuesday night, and Yeo is excited to see the defenseman play. He will help Minnesota move the puck up the ice and create chances for the Minnesota’s forwards.

“There is a big reason why he is here,” Yeo said. “The way that we want to play the game, a huge part of that, is our defensemen and the way we execute and transition the puck out of our defensive zone and deliver it up to our forwards.”

The 29-year old defenseman has 158 points in 384 career games and takes pride in his ability to move the puck while also being responsible on defense.

“This is a team that likes to go north quick,” Gilbert said Tuesday. “It is something I take pride in, trying to get the puck the ice as quick as possible. Making a good first outlet pass, making sure that I am being aware and not turning the puck over and getting the puck moving north as quick as possible.”

HE SAID IT: “He is great guy. He was one of my really good friends for a couple of years. I know his character. He is a guy that wants to win. That is something I always respected about him right from when I met him, I knew he was a guy I liked having on my team.” – Kyle Brodziak on Gilbert, who he played with in Edmonton