Wild coach Bruce Boudreau knew his players had sunk to a new emotional low after Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Vancouver. With two wins in seven games, he could have berated them, or skated them until their legs wobbled.
Instead, he chose a lighter approach to Wednesday’s practice, finishing with a shootout competition between the forwards and defensemen.
“I thought we needed a little break,” Boudreau said. “I thought they needed to smile a little bit at the rink.”
Smiles lit up the locker room Thursday night, after the Wild jumped to a three-goal lead in the first eight minutes against the New York Islanders, adding on for a 6-4 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
Luke Kunin and Zack Mitchell each scored his first NHL goal for the Wild, which improved to 1-1 on its six-game homestand.
“It was big,” Kunin said of the game’s start, when the Wild outshot the Islanders 13-1. “We kind of just coasted last game [against Vancouver]. It was kind of dead on the bench and quiet in the stands as well.”
The Wild kept an announced crowd of 18,824 buzzing this time, taking advantage of the Islanders’ repeated sloppiness.
The Islanders (5-4-1) entered with a three-game winning streak but kept sabotaging themselves on the power play.
The Wild (3-3-2) got shorthanded goals from Eric Staal and Kunin, and kept the Islanders scoreless on five power-play chances. New York is now 2-for-33 on the power play this season.
“It’s just embarrassing,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said.
The Wild’s first two goals came after bad clearing attempts by Islanders defensemen. Jared Spurgeon grabbed the first one, shot from the point, and Marcus Foligno knocked the rebound into the net from his stomach.
Mikael Granlund gathered the next turnover, slipping a pass to Jason Zucker for the goal. Two nights earlier, Zucker took a roughing penalty that negated a late-game power-play chance. Boudreau fumed.
“He made one comment to me, but he didn’t pull me aside,” Zucker said. “I’ve been playing long enough to know whether that was a good penalty or a bad penalty.”
Staal’s shorthanded goal came on a breakaway, as Eden Prairie native Nick Leddy couldn’t control a bouncing puck at the Islanders’ blue line.
After the Islanders trimmed the lead to 3-1, the officials overturned a Wild goal. Chris Stewart scored on a wraparound, what would have been his seventh goal, but Weight challenged, and the officials called goaltender interference on Foligno.
The Wild newcomer had crashed the net, knocking Casey Cizikas into his goalie Thomas Greiss, dropping them both.
In an animated discussion with a referee, Boudreau said the interference had come six seconds before the goal. “Any goalie should be able to recoup in six seconds,” Boudreau said. “We could have had a faceoff in between.”
Fortunately for the Wild, another Islanders power-play miscue was coming. Staal gathered another turnover and hit Kunin for a second-period goal that pushed the lead to 4-1. Mitchell and Jonas Brodin added goals for the Wild in the third period.
Apparently, Boudreau’s softer tactics worked.
“I’ve been pretty hard vocally on them every day that we haven’t had success,” he said. “If you start doing that, eventually they’re going to tune you out.”