Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Mayhem in Denver as the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 to gain a three-point cushion on eighth and move a point from Winnipeg.
In a nasty, physical, action-packed, playoff-like affair, the Avalanche tried to run the Wild out of the building.
“I’d probably be frustrated too if we played a team and hadn’t scored on them in four games except on a dump-in,” Zach Parise said, grinning (you’ll understand what he’s referring to in a few paragraphs). “They’re taking their frustration out on us. We played a good game in spite of what they were trying to do.”
Twelve periods and 240 minutes of hockey now this season, and the only goal the Avalanche has scored against the Wild in four losses (outscored 12-1) arguably should have been wiped out by referees Chris Rooney and Dean Morton tonight.
Just 1:32 into the second period, a Maxime Talbot dump-in ricocheted awkwardly off the glass, into the crease and pinned under Devan Dubnyk’s right pad. Cody McLeod came charging in trying to jam at the puck and pushed Dubnyk over the goal line.
The ref blew the play down signaling no goal. But they went to review, and the NHL Situation Room correctly determined the puck lodged under Dubnyk’s pad when it went over the line. Tying goal.
However, Dubnyk’s pad only went over the line because McLeod pushed him over the line. Before it got to video review, Rooney and Morton probably should have disallowed the goal. That part of this was not reviewable.
“The ruling, I guess, was that McLeod had nothing to do with me going into the net, which is somewhat mindboggling,” Dubnyk said. “It didn’t seem to matter in the end. For us to respond like that after a goal that probably shouldn’t have counted, that’s a sign of a great hockey team.”
Erik Haula set up Justin Fontaine to make it 2-1 later in the second and Jason Pominville snapped a seven-game point drought in the third.
I paint the above picture though because fast forward to three seconds left with the Avs trailing 3-1. Coach Mike Yeo threw his players on the ice and Patrick Roy countered with five skaters, including Cody McLeod, who was running around all game long, getting into skirmishes by the bench, trash-talking constantly.
Basically, he was doing was Cody McLeod does.
The puck’s dropped and McLeod, from the left wing, skates right at center Mikael Granlund and drives him to the ice, then goes right after Charlie Coyle and gets into a fight.
“I should have saw it coming,” Coyle said. “He backed up and went right after Granlund. Just a stupid play on his part.”
This is textbook instigating, and in the last five minutes, warrants a one-game suspension and $10,000 fine for Roy if upheld by the NHL’s hockey ops department IF the refs call it instigating.
So what do you think Rooney and Morton determined after McLeod jumped a skilled player and started a fight and nearly triggered a brawl by the benches, one that including Gabriel Landeskog taking a swipe at Mikko Koivu from bench to bench?
That McLeod would indeed get a 2-5-10, but the two would be unsportsmanlike conduct, not instigating.
“I didn’t know what was called, but it’s got to be [an instigator],” Coyle said. “That guy’s out there with how many seconds left? Have to know that’s coming.”
There are rules in place to prevent what McLeod did, but you need the refs to actually call it.
“That’s garbage is what it is,” Yeo said of McLeod’s antics. “You feel it was going that way all game long. They were obviously very emotional all game long. In an emotional type of game, we did a good job of keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end.”
Asked what he thought of Roy putting out McLeod, Yeo said, “We’ve seen the league respond to things like this. There’s rules in place to try to prevent things like that and I’m quite certain that they’ll take a good long look at that.”
We’ll see if the league does examine this and determines the only thing that kept this from being an instigator with less than five minutes left is that the refs decided not levy one for some unexplained reason.
(Note: I did not get to question Roy after the game because of a tight deadline due to 9 p.m. game and the fact his availability was during the Wild’s availability).
But the tone was set early in the game when the refs let a lot of stuff go, especially on Thomas Vanek and Coule. In the third, Nathan MacKinnon broke his nose on a check from Sean Bergenheim. The Avs accused Bergenheim of a head shot, but a screenshot I tweeted appears to show MacKinnon being nailed by his own stick.
Nate Prosser said, “We weren’t into the [stuff] after the whistles. We just wanted to stay levelheaded and get the win. They’re coming late. But we just wanted to make sure we were focused on getting the win before getting any extracurricular stuff.”
Added Erik Haula, who for the second game in a row scored a goal and assist, said, “We kept it cool and played the game the right way.”
Added Yeo, “We’ve proven, they’ve tried to do that against us in the past too and I think we respond pretty well to that. I think in some ways it gets some guys even a little bit more into the game. We’ve dealt with that before. I’m pretty impressed with the guys and have confidence they’ll have no problem dealing with that again.”
The Avs close the season series in Minnesota next Sunday. Maybe Stu Bickel will be in the lineup that day and we’ll see if McLeod would fight him instead of going after guys like Granlund.
In the meantime, as Yeo said, “Once the dust settles, we’ll be able to sit back and realize that was a really big win for us. ... In an emotional game, we did a good job keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end."
The Wild beat Colorado for the eighth time in the past nine games including the playoffs and improved to 15-3-3 in its past 21 regular-season games in Denver.
The Wild killed seven penalties, including two abbreviated 4-on-3’s, a 5-on-3 and a 6-on-4. The Wild’s penalty kill is now 43 for 44 during the Wild’s 13-2-1 streak since the All-Star break.
“The penalty kill was huge,” Yeo said. “I feel bad for Duby. I thought Duby was great right from the start of the game and it’s a shame. I didn’t feel that their goal should have counted. I felt that he was clearly pushed into the net. It would have been nice for him to get the shutout. Overall I thought he played a real strong game, obviously backstopping the penalty kill, but those guys were huge, especially in that second period.”
Dubnyk made 33 saves and is an NHL-best 15-3-1 since Jan. 15 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts.
He has got to be one of the frontrunners for February First Star of the Month. He was 11-2-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts.
Wild fans packed the Pepsi Center tonight and “DOOOOOOOOOO”ed after all his saves. He was impressed.
“When we were scoring goals, the place was erupting. It’d pretty cool to have that kind of support,” he said.
In the meantime, two big road wins at Nashville and Colorado, said Parise. “It’s something for us to feel really good about.”
The Wild has won seven of its past nine on the road.
Haula and Justin Fontaine scored goals and Kyle Brodziak had a long empty-netter wiped out. But that line was again terrific and Haula said the confidence with the three keeps growing. Jason Pominville also snapped a seven-game point drought with a big third-period goal.
Marco Scandella did seem to get injured. I thought it was from Matt Dumba’s stick because that was his final shift, but before that, he looked like he may have hurt himself when Matt Duchene cut to the net. Yeo said afterward there was too much discomfort for him to continue, to the Wild, already without Jared Spurgeon, played with five defensemen for half the game.
“We keep coming together as a group,” Prosser said. “Big loss of Scandy, we need him and Spurge, but us five took the bulls by the horns and picked up the slack and it was a big two points for us.”
The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. The Wild already wanted a defenseman. We’ll see, depending on his severity, if this further forces the Wild’s hand and it gets one. Also, Tim Erixon and Dave Schlemko can be nabbed off waivers Sunday if the Wild valued them.
Yeo did say this morning that Spurgeon started to work out today.
Intense game to say the least. There was even a nasty fight in the stands between I believe a female Wild fan and male Avs fan.
That’s it for me. The Wild isn’t practicing Sunday. I’ll hop on here and blog if there’s any news, whether from a player acquisition standpoint or if the league chooses to hand out discipline from this game.
I’ll be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell at 10:35 p.m. Sunday.
As impressive of a Wild win this season, let alone road win, as the Wild walked into Nashville, where the NHL-best Predators had lost three times in regulation in 30 games, and won 4-2. Wild's back over .500 on the road for the first time since being 1-0. The Wild, which was at one point 2-6 on the road, has now won six of its last eight on the road.
“That was definitely one of the best all-around team efforts of the year,” Kyle Brodziak said after scoring a goal, an assist, being plus-3, winning 8 of 12 in the faceoff circle and being rock-solid on two penalty kills, especially the one in the third period of a one-goal game.
“You could tell everybody was into it right from the get-go. We had a great mindset going into the game and everything played out the way we could hope for.”
Nino Niederreiter scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season, Erik Haula had a goal in his best game of the season and Devan Dubnyk, who has allowed 31 goals in 19 games, stopped 27 of 29 against one of his former teams during this yearlong odyssey that has landed him in Minnesota.
The Sean Bergenheim trade caused Mike Yeo to shake up all four lines and that fourth line turned out to be yahtzee.
Haula, Brodziak and Justin Fontaine spent all night in the offensive zone, got assignments against Nashville’s best players and drew a penalty on top of the two goals.
“Those guys deserve a ton of credit for the way they played the game,” Yeo said. “Those guys, every shift they were making a difference, every shift they were creating chances and doing things the right way. Solid at both ends of the ice. They didn’t have easy matchups either.”
Said Brodziak, “It was one of those nights where it just felt like things were clicking and things were happening positively for us. The makeup of our line, we have the capability to play a smart game but also create once we get some turnovers and opportunities.”
Defensively, the Wild was outstanding and they did this in an up-and-down game. The Wild’s back pressure constantly disrupted plays and anytime there was a risky play in front of the net, the puck was sent into safe passages in the corner, along the wall or chipped out.
Ryan Suter, booed every time he touched the puck, was fabulous, but so too were guys like Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser, who was plus-3.
Yeo said, “I thought the play of our defensemen was outstanding all night. To have any kind of success against that team, the way that they played, you’re going to need that. There were certain aspects of our game that we asked them to focus on to make sure that we’re sharp in. we got a full commitment to that. It’s a huge team win.”
The Wild moved back into 8th and obviously it very much looks like Nashville will finish 1st. So technically, even though the Wild has 21 games left, this very could be a first-round matchup preview.
“I think that any playoff series would be awful fun right now, but we’ve got a lot of work to do until then,” Yeo said. “It’s important we stay on track.”
Yeo loves the responses after the Predators twice tied the score and the reunited Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Jordan Schroeder combined to set up a beautiful winning goal for Niederreiter in the second.
Yeo said, “They had a real strong game all night long. They looked very comfortable playing together.”
On Niederreiter getting to 20, Yeo said, “We need a guy like that to come into a building, play confident, play big like he did tonight and we need him to finish.”
Yeo liked Bergenheim’s game. He had four shots but was minus-2, but both goals weren’t his fault. Thomas Vanek lost Mike Fisher on the first goal and lost a board battle on the second that turned into Craig Smith’s breakaway.
Check out the gamer on startribune.com/wild for some great quotes by Dubnyk and Niederreiter and Brodziak and Haula (big bounceback game after being benched Tuesday) on the game, too.
Onto Denver now. The Wild has Friday off, so barring news, no blog from me as I work on my article for Saturday’s paper and my Sunday Insider package. Gotta go. 6 a.m. flight through MSP.
Crazy 9 p.m. CT start to that Avalanche game. I'll be on KFAN at 11:35 a.m. Saturday and on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.
Obviously, a very disappointing 2-1 loss by the Wild tonight to the Edmonton Oilers. Judging from my Twitter mentions, holy geez, did one loss make much of the Wild population forget about the 11-1-1 streak and leap off the bandwagon.
My goodness, the anger and nastiness and downright meanness and, well, what you’d expect on Twitter.
Bad loss for the Wild, no doubt, and it’s something coach Mike Yeo said afterward was “what we were afraid of.”
Jason Pominville, who has no points and 11 shots on goal in the past six games after scoring goals in three straight, said Yeo warned the team not to let down after getting into the top-8 and this could be a classic trap game after the Oilers said they were embarrassed by the Wild last Friday and were booed by their fans and even had one knucklehead throw HIS KID’S jersey onto the ice.
So the Oilers were bound to be motivated Tuesday, and Wild players didn’t help matters by playing as bad as we’ve seen them in some time, particularly at home, where they had won six in a row.
The Wild had one shot in the first 11 ½ minutes.
To the Oilers, a defensively-poor team (albeit much better defensively under quality coach Todd Nelson) that had four wins all season in 36 games against the West.
Benoit Pouliot, whom the Wild swung and missed on at fourth overall in 2005, scored twice, including 32 seconds after Jordan Schroeder set up Thomas Vanek for the tying goal.
The Wild recovered from the bad first period by controlling the final two periods, but the Wild aggravatingly couldn’t finish (Ben Scrivens stopped all 28 of Minnesota’s shots in the last two periods) or had shots blocked (24 in all, including 18 in the final 40 minutes).
The Wild came so close so many times to scoring, but either had it stopped by Scrivens, had it blocked or had pucks bounce off sticks or get shanked.
Yeo mixed up his first two lines to create a spark and it definitely led to pressure. But no goals.
Some guys like Coyle at least worked hard. But despite so many battles and chances with the puck in front of the net, he ended up with one assist and two shots. Just no production like everyone else.
Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were all minus-2. Vanek scored a goal but exasperated the crowd a couple times by passing up shots or a feeble attempt on a breakaway with a chance to tie.
The power play also failed twice in the third with a chance to tie.
“Some guys were able to find their game, some guys couldn’t recover,” Yeo said. “The last couple periods, we had good pressure. We had good zone time, but we didn’t finish. We put ourselves in a hole that we shouldn’t have been in.”
Erik Haula, who hit the post on a first-period shorthanded breakaway, only played six minutes tonight and one shift in the third. My guess is he’s in the doghouse again, although to be honest, because I was writing the Sean Bergenheim story for the first two periods, I missed many of shifts. But second goal, largely his fault and he showed his frustration bigtime after.
But perhaps Kyle Brodziak moves to the middle in Nashville and Haula comes out for Bergenheim.
Bergenheim was flying from Chicago to Florida on Wednesday, then onto Nashville, where he’ll meet the team and maybe debut Thursday. He’ll wear No. 23.
Yeo, whom I don’t think knows a ton about Bergenheim because he called him a “big body,” said he’s a “playoff-type hockey player” (which he absolutely has been) who plays the game responsibly and hounds puck on the forecheck. Maybe Yeo just thinks he’s a big body because he is indeed a straight-line, forechecking, go-to-the-net speedster.
Rachel Blount is covering Wednesday’s practice and will also be on the Bergenheim conference call, so she’ll blog afterward and you can follow her on Twitter at @blountstrib.
As I wrote in my Sunday column, the two forwards I knew it inquired about was Bergenheim and Antoine Vermette. It would still love to get Vermette, but right now I’m told the price is way more than GM Chuck Fletcher is willing to pay. But Vermette is a guy with skill who can play the third line and win draws (he’s seventh in the league) on one of the more average faceoff teams in the NHL beyond Mikko Koivu. Although, like last year, Mikael Granlund is improving as the season goes along in that department.
But Bergenheim makes sense because the price came down from a second and a third and he is the classic depth rental guy Fletcher had been hinting at the past few days. Similarly, before Monday, look for Fletcher to acquire a depth defenseman.
You can read more on Bergenheim on the below blog, but Koivu has played with him in the world championships.
“Good speed. His work ethic, he’s an honest player,” Koivu said. “Had lots of success in this league earlier on good teams. He has some playoff experience. He’s been on winning teams, and that’s always an important thing. Good two-way player. He can help in a lot of areas.”
Parise didn’t buy that this was a classic letdown game. He just said the Wild had a bad first period.
“We’re going to lose. We’re going to lose before the season ends,” he said. “Unfortunately tonight was a game that one not good period cost us the game. That’s the reality. Their goalie was good. But, we’ll be fine.”
Vanek felt the Wild deserved better because it outplayed Edmonton in the final two periods, which the Oilers agreed with wholeheartedly after the game.
“End of the year you hope those games even out that you earn the other of one of those games,” Vanek said. “At the stage, where we’re at in the standings, it’s a tough to two points to lose.
“Once they got the lead, they sat back. We made enough good plays to get around those five guys there in the middle and [Scrivens] made some great saves.
“As much as this one hurts and it’s frustrating, we’ve got good character in here. We’ll forget about this one and have a good day of practice and just get ready. This is a team that doesn’t take anyone lightly even though we lost to one of the worst teams in the league. We played hard, we played well, had chances. Could have been 5-, 6-1. But we lost 2-1.”
The Wild, still clinging to eighth but four back of Winnipeg (which beat Dallas) now heads to Nashville and Denver. The Preds are the NHL’s best team and have lost three games in regulation all year. The Wild doesn’t have a lot of success in that arena either (2-4-2 in its past eight there).
“Big road trip ahead of us,” Koivu said. “You can’t think about this too long. We’ve got to learn from it. But we’ve got to face the best team in the league in their building, so we have to put everything we have on that one.”
Rachel’s on Wednesday as I travel. I’ll be next with you Thursday from Nashville.
I’ll also be doing another live podcast with columnist Jim Souhan at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at souhanunfiltered.com. I’ll be coming from the Alive&Social Network studio, Jim from spring training in Ft. Myers.
Remember the lede to my game story seven games ago in Feb. 11’s paper after the overtime loss in Winnipeg?
Of course you do because I know you don’t only read the blogs and my prolific Twitter account (please follow at @russostrib)!
The lede was, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
That’s what the Winnipeg Jets had to be feeling with the Wild surging from the rear … since the All-Star break.”
I think it’s OK if I recycle my own material, right?
The Wild’s right on the Jets’ back now.
Inside the top-8 for the first time since Nov. 24 courtesy of tonight’s six-goal, third-period eruption and 6-2 win over Dallas, the Wild is two back of the Jets for the top wildcard spot with two games in hand. The Wild’s also potentially eyeing a top-3 spot in the Central, which would be an automatic playoff berth. The Blackhawks are slumping and the Wild’s suddenly six behind Chicago with one game in hand.
“It’s a good feeling because we never could kind of break that plane,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We kept winning and we’re always one point back, it seemed.”
The Pacific is a nutty logjam with three teams – Los Angeles, Calgary and San Jose – tied one point behind the Wild’s 69. But the Kings are inside that top-3 Pacific Division threshold with 68 points. The Canucks won today and are second in the Pacific with 71.
Crazy game tonight.
The Wild got off to a decent start, couldn’t score and the Stars had to love getting out of the first period scoreless after playing the night before and because we all know the Wild loves playing with the lead, outscoring opponents 20-6 in the past 17 Dubnyk first periods.
Jason Spezza then snapped the Wild’s 32 for 32 penalty kill streak in the second period with the first power-play goal against the Wild in 13 games (Jan. 20). The Wild got itself in penalty trouble with three penalties that period, including back-to-back ones by Mikko Koivu.
The Wild also was frustrated because it couldn’t buy a call despite spending long stretches in the offensive zone. It’s bizarre that you can have the puck as much as the Wild, yet it has drawn eight power plays the past six games, four the past four.
Normally when you spend 90 seconds in the offensive zone buzzing and get hooked or held, refs will give you the benefit of a whistle and award you for the effort. But that hasn’t happened lately, the Wild started to show its frustration, especially coach Mike Yeo, who lost it on Brian Pochmara. Yeo said the Wild did his best to get his team’s concentration back on the task at hand and not the officials after the outburst.
During the second intermission, it’s almost like the Wild realized it was playing an opponent that played the night before at home (a wild 7-6 overtime loss to Detroit). Oh, and that the goalie was Jhonas Enroth.
In November, Enroth gave up five in a 6-3 Buffalo loss in St. Paul. On Jan. 15 – Dubnyk’s debut in Buffalo, Enroth gave up seven goals in one of the worst home losses in Sabres history and the most lopsided win in Wild history (7-0).
Tonight, Enroth, one of the goalies the Wild inquired about when it was beyond desperate and since traded to Dallas, stopped 20 of 20 after two periods. Most hit him in the Stars logo though. Finally, the Wild attacked in the third and beat him six times, a franchise record for goals in a period.
Zach Parise scored twice and Koivu, Stephane Veilleux (fifth career winner), Matt Dumba and Mikael Granlund once. Granlund had three points and Christian Folin registered his first career multi-point game. Dubnyk made 18 saves, has now allowed 27 goals in 17 starts, is 13-2-1 and the Wild is 13-2-2 with him in goal and 11-1-1 since the All-Star break.
The proverbial four-point game hit Dallas hard. The Stars are now six back of Minnesota with the loss. Would have been two with a win.
So, a lot of words and numbers, but long story short, Enroth has given up 18 goals in three games this season against the Wild.
The Wild has won six in a row at home and won the season series with Dallas, 4 games to 1.
The gameplan tonight was simple, Yeo said. Invest in the game early by getting pucks deep and forcing the Stars’ defensemen to retrieve pucks over and over so the team tires by the third. You may not see the results early, but stick to it and it’ll pay dividends in the third. Yeo felt the plan worked as the Wild certainly came out swarming in the third.
It started with Folin making a smart play to take Parise’s exchange in the left faceoff circle and walk up the wall. Folin said he recognized that the forward had a bad gap, but he drove left as Parise drove the net from the far side. Somehow, Folin executed a backhand, cross-crease pass from those left boards to Parise for the tying goal 1:40 in.
Said Parise, “That was a really, really nice pass. Backhand, across the crease, not a lot of room. That was right on the money.”
I’ll repeat again: Folin is going to be a player. This guy has size, mobility, a big shot and smarts.
Said Yeo, “He’s typically viewed as a guy that will make his living as being a shutdown solid defensive player. But I do think there is more to him than that and it’s up to us to keep developing him that way.”
Koivu scored 1:43 later and after Veilleux scored, the rout was on.
Yeo talks glowingly about all the plays the Wild D made tonight to help offensively and defensively. They were all real good.
Amazing how well Dumba and Folin are playing. I still believe the Wild needs to acquire a defenseman by the deadline, but maybe it’s just a depth defenseman to have in case of injuries because Dumba and Folin certainly look like they can play right now. Once Jared Spurgeon returns, the Wild will have 7 defensemen up here, but as we have seen lately with Spurgeon’s injury and the Marco Scandella scare in Edmonton (skate to ankle, and he suffered another one tonight that he came back from) and the Jonas Brodin scare tonight with the puck to the head, you can’t have too many NHL defensemen and right now the only other defensemen that are around to be called up are Justin Falk and Jon Blum.
Also, you have to hand it to Yeo with these lines. These last three games, the Wild has had balanced scoring up and down the lineup from all four lines. Everybody is contributing, which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that Jason Zucker, who was up here in the press box tonight and looking good, is out long-term. Same thing with Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter.
Again, it’ll be interesting to see how GM Chuck Fletcher handles this. You’d like to add another forward for depth, but maybe you don’t need to go add that quote-unquote Jason Zucker replacement when guys like Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and others are stepping up.
One leaguewide issue one GM I talked to this morning told me: There’s like 6 sellers in the league and 24 buyers the way the standings are shaping up. So all teams are having trouble making a trade right now (there hasn’t really been one rental trade yet; the Cody Franson-Mike Santorelli deal was more a hockey trade). The supply-demand equation is making the sellers drive up prices for mediocre players at best. And as I’ve reported to you, if Fletcher is understandably unwilling to trade his first-round pick (if the Wild misses the playoffs, you could potentially be trading Connor McDavid if you trade the first since all non-playoff teams can win the lottery) and he doesn’t want to trade his second after trading three in the past two deadlines, it’ll be hard to make a significant trade without trading prospects. The price of rentals usually cost in that second-round range (see Matt Moulson trade).
The Wild’s inside the top-8. Pretty amazing.
But the way the Western Conference jockeying goes, it may only be temporary and there is sure to be a roller coaster of emotions the final 23 games.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Yeo said. “Yesterday we were outside of the top-8 and I don’t think that it meant anything and tonight we’re inside the top-8 and I don’t think it means anything.”
He said what has made this team so good is the sense of urgency it has played with and its preparation going into every game. He said the Wild can’t lose that. “We’ve got ourselves back in the hunt and now we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Added Dubnyk: “All we can do is win the games that we have and we'll be on the right side of it at the end. There's a lot of confidence in here.”
Talk to you after Monday’s practice.
“I was talking with Zach [Parise], and we’ve never been through, … we’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know what the heck is going on, but every day’s a bad day right now.” – Ryan Suter on Jan. 11 after the Wild’s 11th loss in 13 games in Chicago.
How long ago does that quote feel?
The Wild would get trounced the next game in Pittsburgh, have that now infamous 30-minute closed-door meeting, acquired Devan Dubnyk the very next day and poof, magic … 12-2-2 since.
The latest victory came via a 4-0 score at Edmonton.
Thanks to a 10-1-1 run since the All-Star break, the Wild has turned a 14-point deficit to the Winnipeg Jets for the top wildcard spot to three with two games in hand. The Wild also moved to ninth tonight, one point behind San Jose for the second wildcard spot with two games in hand, one point behind Calgary (in that top three in the Pacific) with one game in hand and two behind Vancouver. The Flames and Canucks both lost tonight.
Dubnyk made 15 saves tonight for his fifth shutout in 16 starts, the fastest to that many shutouts with one team in the post-expansion era (1967). He also won his career-high 21st game, 12 of which have come in Minnesota with a 1.61 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. Also, he is 5-0 against his old Oilers this season with a 0.79 goals-against average and .970 save percentage (128 saves on 132 shots).
The Oilers are lucky enough to get him against Tuesday in St. Paul.
I’m doing a Dubnyk profile for Sunday’s paper, by the way.
Justin Fontaine, who grew up in Bonnyville, Alberta (three hours northeast of here), scored two goals on a line with Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund. Jordan Schroeder, who continues to play so well and fill the skates of speedster Jason Zucker, scored another goal and Nino Niederreiter scored his 19th and fifth since the All-Star break.
Mikko Koivu had two assists for his 114th career multi-point game, tying Marian Gaborik’s team record. I wrote a story last weekend on how great Koivu is playing. Parise had two assists as well, one coming off an awesome move behind the net. The Parise-Granlund-Fontaine was the Wild's best line.
As you can read in the gamer, Koivu lauded how well the Wild played from start to finish tonight, as did Dubnyk and coach Mike Yeo.
“We played solid,” Yeo said. “We had four lines, all our D and obviously Devyn was there when we needed him, but it was both ends of the ice for me. It was the way we defended, but also the way we executed. It allowed us to spend a lot of time in the offensive zone.”
The Wild overcame a big scare when Marco Scandella left the game after his third shift. It looked like a knee or something, but it turned out his left ankle was stepped on and he was sliced open. He sprinted out after one stoppage in the second from the Zamboni door (no exit to the locker room from the visitors’ bench).
During the rest of the first, the Wild did a great job stepping up. Ryan Suter played with the other four defensemen at different points, and in fact, Christian Folin, fresh off the farm, assisted on Fontaine’s first goal. It was the 11th time in 12 games the Wild scored first. The Wild has outscored opponents 20-6 in 16 Dubnyk first periods.
On the 2-1 road trip, Koivu said, “You always want to win them all, but I thought we responded well after that Vancouver game. Two huge wins.
“It’s not easy trip to come out with four points. We want all six, but we’re happy with four.”
Little strange the same two refs somehow found the Wild one power play in two games at Calgary and Edmonton. Hard to have the puck all game tonight and not draw a power play.
Yeo broke up his lines this trip to try to spread the wealth. It started in Calgary because he wanted to avoid loading up the top line with Koivu, Parise and Jason Pominville and make it simple for Calgary’s top 2 D, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodin, to check them.
He wanted more balance to the lines and he certainly got it tonight. The Wild is 5-1-1 since the injuries to Zucker and Ryan Carter. Guys like Fontaine, Schroeder and Niederreiter continue to step up and fill the void, Yeo said.
Niederreiter and Fontaine each had three goals on the road trip, Schroeder a goal and two assists.
Funny moments in tonight’s game, but a few weeks ago when in Edmonton, I mentioned how Suter and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were fresh off filming a Visa commercial at the All-Star Game. The commercial is out (can be seen on YouTube) and the Rexall Place game-ops folks played it a few times tonight.
“I skated by Nugent-Hopkins and said, ‘They told me they weren’t going to embarrass me.’”
Suter said he got a lot of cracks from his teammates during the game.
“I was trying to hide it,” Suter said, adding that when they filmed the skills competitions during the shoot, he actually won, but Visa made them redo it because it’s only running in Canada because Visa is the NHL’s partner in Canada and Mastercard in the U.S.
I asked jokingly if he’s happy he overcame the adversity and played another solid game (plus-2, plus-10 in his past 12 games), Suter said, “I was just trying not to be noticed out there. Then they would have really rubbed it in. It was what it was. Bad acting.”
On the game, Suter said he thought it was going to be a long night when Scandella was injured, “but the team played well. It’s easy to play in the offensive zone. Everyone stepped in and is really firing on all horses [with the injuries the Wild has].”
Lastly, all the Wild players after the game were talking about a fight in the stands with two minutes left. Apparently, an Oilers fan threw his jersey on the ice. Ben Scrivens skated over and put it back in the stands. The guy that threw it was celebrating and somebody else threw a beer in his face and all heck broke loose.
That’s it for me. No practice Saturday, meaning no blog barring news. Talk Sunday after the morning skates. I am doing another podcast with Jim Souhan at 4 pm Saturday. You can listen live at 4 p.m. at souhanunfiltered.com
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