Tonight looked a lot like the game the Wild played in Nashville earlier this month, only there wasn’t that 5-on-3, followed by 5-on-4 to unravel things, coupled with a Niklas Backstrom knee injury and penalty-shot goal on the first puck Josh Harding saw.
But just like that game in Nashville, the Predators couldn’t get anything done at even-strength against the stingy Wild. This time, the Wild didn’t run out of gas in the third, and for a change, the Wild managed more than one goal.
Justin Fontaine, promoted to the top line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu two shifts before, scored the eventual winning goal late in the second period and Jason Pominville scored an empty-netter as the Wild snapped a three-game losing streak to beat the Predators 2-0 tonight. Parise had two assists and Josh Harding made 16 saves for his eighth career shutout.
Before we continue, the potentially bad news of the night. Defenseman Jonas Brodin, whom I jinxed with this Scotty Bowman-centric story in Monday’s paper, was injured 2:54 into tonight’s game when he took a puck directly to the face off Gabriel Bourque’s dump-in.
Brodin was taken to local hospital for x-rays, and he has been released. Coach Mike Yeo didn’t have an update on Brodin’s condition, but hope for a root canal, not a jaw/chin injury. GM Chuck Fletcher just emailed me that an update will be provided Wednesday.
The Wild did an impressive job playing virtually the entire game tonight with five defensemen (four for five minutes in the third when Nate Prosser fought Eric Nystrom), and obviously Matt Dumba and injured Keith Ballard are waiting in the wings. But Brodin is immensely important to the Wild, and particularly, the puck possession type game Yeo wants the Wild playing. He was off to an outstanding start this season with three goals and three assists in 25 minutes, 42 seconds a game. So the Wild can’t afford to lose him for an extended period.
Good evening from the X. Rachel Blount is writing the game story, so I figured I’d blog. Good win for the Wild tonight. Minnesota controlled the game and the puck all night against a tired-looking Preds team.
Harding is 4-2-1 with a league-leading 0.96 goals against average and a .953 save percentage that ranks second (minimum 4 games). Harding has allowed one 5-on-5 goal in eight games and the Wild has allowed five all year, which ranks first. It has allowed 21.2 shots per game, which ranks first. In Harding’s six starts, he has had to face an average of 20.7 shots per game.
It’s all about puck possession. This isn’t the Wild of yesteryear where it trapped up the neutral zone and sat back all game. The Wild again had the puck all night tonight and outshot Nashville 29-16.
This team does so many things well, yet it has to work so hard to score goals. By those defensive numbers, this team should be a lot higher in the standings than its 4-3-3 record.
Tonight, the Wild badly outplayed the Preds, but Minnesota wasn’t getting a lot of second chances as the Preds’ defensemen collapsed down low and Pekka Rinne did a good job smothering pucks.
The one puck he couldn’t smother – a Clayton Stoner shot – and Fontaine pounced for his second career goal and eventual first career winning goal. Stoner had a strong game tonight as his responsibilities picked up with Brodin hurt. He had three hits and three blocks shots.
Jared Spurgeon took Brodin’s spot alongside Ryan Suter and was solid. He also may have saved the game by sweeping Matt Cullen’s shot from the goal line in the waning seconds and before Pominville’s empty-netter. I liked Prosser, too, and Marco Scandella brushed off a Shea Weber shot to the leg late in the first.
Not easy to play 57 minutes with five D, but the Wild did an impressive job. Both Stoner and Spurgeon credited the forwards for helping hold the fort down, and Harding said this was one of the soundest Wild defensive efforts of the season.
The fourth line of Zenon Konopka, Stephane Veilleux and Torrey Mitchell provided good, energetic minutes tonight. They were in the offensive zone all night. Konopka set a tone early by fighting Rich Clune and as Stoner said, “letting him know that coming back to our building, it’s not going to be an easy night.” Konopka and Prosser were chirping Clune late in warmups and Konopka fought him the first shift they were on the ice together.
Mitchell also moved up and played with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak when the minutes mattered late in the third.
Yeo said the Wild coaches talked about moving Fontaine up with Koivu and Parise during Monday’s practice and they decided to try it in the second period tonight to get a lefty-righty thing going. He said it had nothing to do with the play of Nino Niederreiter, whom I thought played well tonight. But Fontaine looked real good with Koivu and Parise, too.
Yeo wasn’t overly enamored with the Wild’s third period, particularly turnovers at the offensive blue line that led to some odd-man rushes. But after a 1-2-1 road trip, this is a good win.
Now the Wild must build on it with Carolina coming to town Thursday. The Wild also killed two penalties tonight, including one in the third. Maybe a good building block for a horribly leaky PK this year.
In Harding's last nine home starts, he has three shutouts. Ryan Suter skated in his 600th game tonight -- 542 with Nashville. Fontaine and Matt Cooke lead the team with plus-5's. Parise leads the team with seven points. Cullen said it was real classy of the Wild to pay tribute to him tonight.
That’s it for me. I’ll have a Brodin update for you when the Wild provides one Wednesday.
Also, if you want to come to the chalk talk with Wes Walz and I before Thursday’s game, go to www.wild.com/chalktalk. Comes with a game ticket.