Jason Pominville is a pretty quiet guy in the locker room, but he made some real noise Friday at Xcel. His two goals and one assist highlighted a generally strong effort from the Wild in a 4-3 victory over a good Montreal team. Here's a link to the game story: http://www.startribune.com/sports/wild/230298051.html
The story is loaded with stats, so I won't repeat too many of those here. Pominville is on a nice roll, with eight goals in his past nine games (and five in the past three). He's the kind of player who just diligently goes about his work, and his general demeanor--calm and focused--was just what the Wild needed to avoid coughing up a game they led 3-1 with 16 minutes to go.
Pominville, a Quebec native, deflected the praise Friday (in two languages, no less, giving postgame interviews in English and French). Coach Mike Yeo noted that some players in scoring slumps can lose their heads, forcing things as they become desperate. Not Pominville. When he managed only one goal in the first five games of the season, he continued to carry out his role: playing good positional hockey, finding ways to get open, maintaining his energy and drive. Now, as he said, "we're getting a few bounces lately.''
Pominville sent plenty of kudos to linemate Mikael Granlund, whom Yeo said is "a different player right now.'' Last season, Granlund played 27 games and finished with two goals and six assists. He has surpassed that point total in 14 games this year, with a team-high 10 assists. His coaches and teammates also point out how well Granlund is playing without the puck, though it's hard not to get caught up in his superb passing.
His vision, timing and pinpoint delivery gave perfect setups to Pominville on the first goal and Nino Niederreiter on the goal that put the Wild up 3-1. "He sees the ice really well,'' Pominville said of Granlund. "We're both guys that like to make plays. We're not the biggest guys, but we try to stay moving, and it seems like we find each other in a lot of situations. His overall game fits my overall game pretty well. And the way he plays away from the puck benefits this team in a big way. He's proven he's an elite centerman.''
Yeo praised the Wild for hanging tough after Montreal tied the game, resulting in the kind of victory that is especially good for the psyche. "That was a hard game,'' he said. "Montreal is a very good team, fast and skilled and well-coached. It was a hard game for us, to be able to battle through that adversity. You've got a 3-1 lead in the third period, and all of a sudden, it's gone, I thought the guys, after the time out, did a great job of regrouping and getting refocused and going out there and getting it done.''
--Yeo loved Keith Ballard's game in his return after missing seven games because of a concussion. He was raving the other day about what a nice job Ballard does on the power play, skating along the blue line and finding shooting lanes. Pominville's winning goal started with a Ballard shot that was deflected by Zach Parise. With two assists, Ballard had his first multi-point game since March 21, 2010.
--Dany Heatley wasn't any more effective in the new line configurations. He started out on the top line with center Charlie Coyle and Parise; after a couple of shifts, Yeo began switching him out with Justin Fontaine, who started the game on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Fontaine scored the Wild's first goal on a redirection of a Ballard shot and finished with five shots. Heatley was penalized for holding the stick in the third period, a penalty that led to a Canadiens power-play goal (and started the rally).
Yeo had said their performances would dictate which line they ended up on, and that both would have the opportunity to prove themselves. After the game, he indicated that alternating them between lines may not have been the best strategy. "It was a tough game for both guys,'' Yeo said. "They both didn’t have the best game. It was a tough situation for them, bouncing around from one shift to the next. We'll have to figure that out in the next couple of days. It's not ideal. We'd like to have some consistency.''
--Those new lines were blown up anyway in the third period. Coyle was shifted from center to wing on a line with Parise and Mikko Koivu; Yeo said his conditioning was becoming a factor at that point, as he played his first game since injuring his knee on Oct. 5. Yeo added that he also changed the lines to try and find consistency.
--Coyle looked pretty good in his return, getting a couple of nice chances early in the game and playing sound defense before he wore down. He played 18:23, fifth-most on the team. Jonas Brodin was not quite his usual self but was OK in his first game back after breaking his cheekbone; he got a game-high 26:54 of ice time, even more than ironman partner Ryan Suter (26:35).
That's all for now. I've got Saturday's practice and Sunday's morning skate; Russo returns for Sunday's game against New Jersey.