Maybe it’s indeed a new era for the Wild. It no longer makes backup goalies look like the second coming of Patrick Roy and Marty Brodeur.
Jeff Zatkoff’s play in between the pipes for injured Jonathan Quick left a lot to be desired during a 6-3 Wild win and has to have GM Dean Lombardi searching for a goalie now. Lombardi wasn’t at the game tonight, but Zatkoff struggled mightily.
He allowed five goals on 15 shots through two periods.
The guy across the rink from Zatkoff, Darcy Kuemper, may be available at some point this season, but after seeing what can happen to a team when its No. 1 goalie goes down, I can’t imagine Chuck Fletcher would give Kuemper away this early in the season unless he was getting something substantial in return.
Plus, why at this point would anybody at least in the conference help the 0-3 Kings, again, unless you’re getting something of major substance? Seems awfully risky for the Wild, especially since we know Devan Dubnyk was experiencing some hip soreness for much of training camp and especially because the Wild wants Alex Stalock to get his game back together in the minors after a tough season a year ago. Iowa, incidentally, blew a 3-1 third-period lead and lost tonight to Grand Rapids (Joel Eriksson Ek scored his first North American pro goal).
Also a sign of a new era? The fact Kuemper started tonight in the first place.
In the past, Kuemper was the second of back-to-back goalie, certainly not one starting the middle game of a homestand with two days off … after a victory!
But Bruce Boudreau wants Kuemper to get his game under him and not have him sit for weeks and then be asked to go win a game. Kuemper gave up a goal on the first shot he saw tonight 50 seconds in, but with the aid of three posts in the first period and four in the game, he settled in. He was under an all-out attack in the third and the Kings did pot two goals. But there was little he could do because the Wild looked completely exhausted in front of him probably from having to defend most the game and kill five penalties, including a 49-second 5-on-3 with a 2-1 lead in the second.
Interesting sport, hockey. The Wild played like crud opening night in St. Louis but easily could have won if it cashed in on one or two of its three breakaways. The Wild played terrific in its home opener, only gave up seven scoring chances according to the coaches and still had to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Tonight it had a 5-1 lead thanks to bad goaltending and a three-goal spurt in 4 ½ minutes, yet it was not the best team on the ice for large chunks of the game, including most the first period.
Boudreau said they can’t all be Picassos and the Wild snatched one from the Kings tonight. The Wild, typically a good defensive team, has also allowed three goals in each of its first three games despite its 2-1 record. He says that much change. The Wild also needs to starts scoring on its breakaways. It’s like 0 and 7 this season.
But, as Erik Haula said, a win’s a win, two points is two points.
Haula and Jason Pominville scored in the first period, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu and Teemu Pulkkinen in the second and Jared Spurgeon scored a much-needed 173-foot empty-better to stop the bleeding with the Wild in hang on for dear life mode.
With Zatkoff playing terribly, the Wild still passed up shot after shot. All three coaches reacted with frustration when Coyle, despite the shaky goalie in front of him, tried to go forehand, backhand in the slot after the Wild killed the 5-on-3 and lost the puck.
But Ryan Suter drew a penalty and it was Coyle who crashed the net with Zach Parise and scored his second goal of the season to extend his point streak to three to open the year. Suter, who had two assists, also has a three-game point streak.
Asked how upsetting it was to see his team pass up shots despite the obviousness to even novices that Zatkoff wasn’t up to par tonight, Boudreau said, “All I know is that if I was playing I'd shoot from everywhere. When you know that you've got a goalie that's a little bit rattled, you've got to get pucks at the net. And yet I thought especially on the power play we were trying to be so cute to get the perfect play and the goal that we did score on the power play was just a little flip shot at the net with traffic in front of the net. Hopefully they'll understand that we've scored two power-play goals [this season] and they've both been the same way and that's what we preach.”
Koivu was a beast tonight. Sixteen faceoff wins and huge blocked shot on the 5-on-3. In fact, the Wild blocked 25 shots to the Kings’ four.
“He was huge. That 5-on-3 was huge,” Boudreau said. “We were up 2-1 at the time and I think we scored two or three minutes after that to make it 3-1. It was pretty deflating probably on their bench going, 'What do we have to do? We hit the post. We have 5-on-3s. We have good looks.'”
Last year, John Torchetti found magic putting together the Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Pominville line. Pominville started the season in St. Louis with Koivu and Mikael Granlund, but starting against Winnipeg, he was reunited on the old line.
They were struck out statistically, but Boudreau raved about the job all three did in all three zones against the Jets. Tonight, they were rewarded by accounting for two goals in the first.
Haula answered Pearson’s goal, then Pominville scored late. It was a big relief for Pominville to score in Game 3 after scoring his first goal in Game 22 last season (Nov. 28).
“It's nice to be able to get one early and hopefully get going in the right direction,” said Pominville. “Yeah I don't have to worry about it now and [can] just go out and play. I don't have to talk to you guys about it now.”
That last part of the quote doesn’t read like a joke, but be assured, one of the nicest guys on the team said that with a big smile and laugh.
To refresh your memory, after Torchetti put the line together last season, Haula scored nine goals and 21 points and was plus-14 in 23 games, Niederreiter scored 11 goals and 19 points and was plus-10 in 23 games and Pominville had 15 points and was plus-13 in 15 games. Pominville missed seven games there near the end, if I remember correctly, because of a groin injury.
Some other quotes from the postgame:
Kuemper on the posts: “Yeah, I got away with a couple there. The post is a goalie’s best friend, and they bailed me out a little bit early. After the first, I felt my game got a lot better and I started to feel more comfortable, more up to the game speed. Luckily I got bailed out a little bit early.”
Kuemper on being under attack in the third: “I expected it going into the period. We knew that they would have a push. We’ll have to watch it. Maybe we played it a little bit too safe, but when you’re up by four, I guess you can afford to do that a little bit. It’s a big win early. That’s a good team over there. It’s nice to get the two points against them.”
Kuemper on starting: “In the past, it probably would have been Duby’s game. Getting the nod, it’s huge getting it this early. Getting up to the game speed this early in the season is awesome. You can build off it in practice rather than sitting around for six, seven games before your first start. Now you feel a part of it and you’re into the season now.”
Haula on his goal: “Just trying to keep my speed going and use it as much as possible. I was able to get a couple of chances and one went in. … It's very important to answer it right away and put the momentum on our side. [The first period] wasn't maybe our best period, but we came in [to the second] with a 2-1 lead.”
Haula on his line: “We just keep feeding off each other and we just know where we're gonna be. We just gotta keep going, knowing some nights it's not going to go in. That Winnipeg game we had a lot of chances too and it didn't go in so there's going to be nights like that and we just gotta keep playing hard and competing hard.”
Boudreau on the 3-on-5: “That was to me the turning point of the game. They must've been pretty frustrated after the first period I think. They hit four posts and they go in losing in a period they should've won. Like I told the players, not every game can be a Picasso. We found a way. We weren't great tonight, but we found a way to win. The bottom line is this league is really tough to win games and so when we can win games whatever the way they are, however, we do it, it's a win.”
Boudreau on Kuemper: “After the first period he settled down. He looked a little nervous early on. He was probably grateful that pucks kept hitting the post in the first period. That sort of calmed his nerves if that makes any sense. I thought in the second period he started to corral the puck and he did a good job at it. ... The third goal there wasn't really much he could do. You could see them coming. You knew they were going to give it up at some point. I'd like to start allowing less than three goals a game. You can't win that way. It's a process right now. It's baby steps.”
Boudreau on defending most of the game: “We took a lot of penalties but that's what happens when you play LA. That's why they were No. 1 in CORSI for the last couple years because they usually have the puck and their two big centers -- Carter and Kopitar -- are pretty hard to contend with when they're going. I thought they were both skating. Carter in the third period was a real presence every time he touched the puck.”
Boudreau on the Haula line: “I thought they played a good game tonight. Then again they played good games -- they were together the last part of last year at least 20 games. They played well. They were our best line tonight for sure.”
Regardless, good come-from-behind win. The Wild won for a second straight game despite giving up the first goal. That only happened five times in 36 games last season (5-25-6).
That’s it for me.
Auston Matthews, Jake Gardiner and the Leafs come to town Thursday. I’ll talk to you after Wednesday’s practice. Also, please try to come down to Hell’s Kitchen at 4 p.m. to take part in the Russo-Souhan Show.
I’ll also be on Sirius XM at 11:30 a.m. CT