Rex Ryan has a lot more work to do to fix the Buffalo defense than he imagined.
Oh, wrong coach, wrong team.
Fine night for the Wild to face the Sabres.
As I wrote the other day on the blog, it’s a little eerie that one year ago, the Wild was in the midst of a six-game losing streak entering its 43rd game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Yeo’s job was in peril, the Wild’s goaltending was in shambles.
One year later, the Wild was in the midst of a six-game losing streak entering its 43rd game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Yeo’s job is in peril, the Wild’s goaltending has been in shambles.
Last January, the Wild beat the Sabres, went on a 23-10-7 the rest of the way for the third-best record in the NHL and stormed into the playoffs.
This January, the Wild’s hoping its easy 7-0 win tonight over the Sabres with new goalie Devan Dubnyk in net was the start of the same turnaround.
The Sabres are awful, are in bottom-out, rebuild, go for Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel mode and it showed tonight. But the Wild got back to basics, defended well with a mishmash blue line and protected Dubnyk bigtime. Yes, it was the Sabres, but man, the Wild needed a game to start feeling good about itself again.
He was barely tested, making only 18 saves to become the first Wild goalie to ever debut with a shutout.
The seven-goal win was not only the largest margin of victory in Wild history, it was the largest margin of defeat for the Sabres since they moved from the Aud to the First Niagara Center in 1996. So, you may discount the win as the Wild beating a peewee team, but as much as the Sabres lose, they have never lost like this, not only this season, but not at home in 18-plus years.
“We’re all embarrassed. I’m speechless,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
Hey, he stole the Wild’s line, at least of late. Usually it's the Wild which says it's embarrassed. But the Wild won for the first time since Jan. 3 and first time on the road since Dec. 29 and most of all sat inside a happy locker room for a change after a game.
Funny Matt Cooke/Dubnyk anecdote to lead my gamer, so read that when the new one gets on at startribune.com/wild, but it’ll give you a good idea of just how much work Dubnyk had in his debut.
“The guys came out and worked so hard for me and allowed me to settle into the game,” he said. “We had a lead and the way we were playing we weren’t about to give it up. I could concentrate when the pucks came across the blue line, which wasn’t too often because of how solid we played.”
Dubnyk admitted he had some nerves, but mostly because his body was a little tired from his red-eye and 8 a.m. Buffalo arrival and the quick turnaround, but he tried not to build it up too big and just focused on making the save.
Zach Parise scored the winning goal 5:13 in, had an assist and six shots. Thomas Vanek had a season-high eight shots and also scored a power-play goal and assist against his longtime team. Kyle Brodziak (shorthanded, real good game) and Erik Haula (real good game) also had a goal and assist and Matt Dumba (plus-3, first pro fight), Jared Spurgeon (plus-4 a game after being minus-4) and Matt Cooke also scored as the Wild outshot the Sabres 37-18.
There were actually too many good games to list tonight.
Mikko Koivu had two assists for the first time since Nov. 24.
Jason Pominville posted his 31st career three-point game with three assists on a night the classy former Sabres captain was welcomed back with a video tribute that bizarrely didn’t happen last season.
He didn’t know it was going on until Parise told him while the team was on a power play. He was very appreciative.
Since Nov. 16, Pominville has 22 assists, tied for first in the NHL with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf over that span.
He now has 134 career multi-point games and three in his past six games.
Parise said, “We were playing a team that was struggling, too. There was an emphasis on defending and let the other stuff come. We wanted to make sure we were taking care of our own end first and coming up the ice together, but limiting their chances. I thought we did a good job of that.
“When we’re playing well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re really not giving up too many Grade A chances. Throughout all zones, we played more of a five-man unit.”
He said, “When the goals are coming, when guys are talking, supporting each other, you get that excitement. It felt like everything just fell into place.”
Haula said, “We just had the mindset we’re going to put everything just out there and battle.”
Brodziak said, “There’s been a lot of talking lately and I thought everybody was focused on playing the right way. As the game wore on, you see what it does to other teams. Now we just have to bring that every single night and every single period.”
Dumba was real good for his first NHL game since Nov. 28. He said, “It’s kind of weird. Its didn’t feel like that at all. It just felt like I was very engaged, focused right from the get-go. Once I made a couple good, solid plays, I just played from there.”
Yeo like Dubnyk’s poise and size in net and the way he played pucks to alleviate pressure.
“We needed to give him a good chance and we needed to give our defensive group a good chance to play a solid game,” said Yeo, who loved the Wild’s overall game, the play of the D and the forwards and called it one of the best defensive games in weeks and proof that if you defend well, offense comes from that.
On Dumba, “We want him be impactful. … I like the fact that he’s trying to make a statement every time he’s on the ice.”
He liked Haula’s game a lot and wants him to continue to build his game.
On the win, “We can’t sit around and start feeling really good about ourselves. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a pretty deep hole here, so as good as this game was, the next game’s more important.”
That’s it for now. The Wild is off Friday as the team will have a hard, emotional day as it supports Parise at his dad’s service. Then, Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday when Dubnyk will face the Coyotes so soon after being traded from there.
I’ll have a story on that in Saturday’s paper and I’ll also be writing my Sunday Insider on “tanking” for McDavid and Eichel.
I will be doing a Podcast with Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan on Friday at 5 p.m. at O’Gara’s in St. Paul. Either come on down or listen live or later at souhanunfiltered.com.
Barring news, talk to you Saturday.