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Postgame: Penalty killers come up large in shutout

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • November 4, 2013 - 8:47 AM

Nice win for the Wild tonight after a slow start. Minnesota finally found its legs and took two points from a sub-par Devils team who was shorthanded by injuries, hasn’t scored now in seven periods and who played the night before.

Wild has won five of six with tonight’s 4-zip win over the Devils. Josh Harding made 19 stops for his ninth career shutout and second of the season. He’s now 7-2-1 with a 1.10 goals against average and .950 save percentage and is 6-0 at home with a 1.06 goals against average and .950 save percentage.

The Wild’s not practicing Monday, but it’s safe to say he’ll be starting Tuesday against Calgary.

Mikael Granlund scored his first goal of the season, which was his first career winning goal, extended his point streak to five games, won 6 of 10 faceoffs, had three hits and a big blocked shot on the PK.

Torrey Mitchell scored his first goal when a Zach Parise rebound ricocheted off of him. He has not clue where, but he said he’d take it. Dany Heatley, who seems to be handling fourth-line duty with a good attitude, scored on the power play and Jason Pominville scored an empty-netter for his 10th goal, which is third in the NHL.

Nino Niederreiter assisted on three goals. Wild’s won five of six and is now 2-1 on the homestand.

Good evening from the X. It’s Russo. I’m back from my friend’s wedding. It felt like I was away from the team for a month, but it’s nice to be back. I'll be live in studio at KFAN at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Before I continue, if you missed my Thomas Vanek column from Sunday, please give it a read here. Fitting after yet another big game from Granlund and Niederreiter.

Some random thoughts:

--Wild’s PK was solid tonight, going 3 for 3 and generating momentum for a change. Then the Wild learned its lesson and didn’t take another penalty after four first-period minors. But this is a good sign for a PK that has had some big kills lately but was still 28th in the NHL and had given up at least one PPG in 12 of the previous 14 games.

--The Wild also won 39 of 54 faceoffs (72 percent), with Mikko Koivu winning 14 of 20 and Kyle Brodziak winning 11 of 13. That obviously led to more and more puck possession as the night moved on. The Wild’s second in the NHL in faceoff win percentage.

-- Torrey Mitchell had a strong game and got the goal. He was elevated to top line duty with Zach Parise (assist) and Mikko Koivu.

“He’s played with energy, he’s worked his butt off all year,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I just felt Mikko and Zach needed a straight-line, hard-working [guy]. He is a team first guy. He never ever is going to turn around and say ‘what’s in it for me?’ He just wants to help the team. It’s hard to put into words how valuable that is.”

Between Mitchell and Justin Fontaine and Niederreiter, Yeo has been able to slot players up and down the lineup this year, although as far as finding a first-line right wing for Koivu and Parise, Yeo said, “I kind of would like somebody to jump up and just take it for good, but that said, when guys have gone up, they’ve responded and done the job.”

-- Heatley was good tonight, and I wrote that on Twitter before the goal. You could see it in the first when he was making some tape-to-tape passes, generating chances, not turning pucks over, winning battles.

He’s not dumb. He’s on the fourth line. He knows next stop is the press box or worse. Theoretically, if it ever got to the point where the Wild felt like it exhausted every avenue to get him playing, it could place him on waivers and send him to Iowa. Contrary to some belief out there, Heatley does not have a no-move clause. He has a limited, 10-team no-trade clause. Still, that’d be a heck of a step and I don’t think we’re anywhere near that.

So Heatley looks like he’s responded well.

“He handled it the right way,” Yeo said. “If he didn’t score that goal, I could still sit here and say that was probably his best game. He came to the rink, he had a good attitude, he never pouted. What he did was focused on his own game.”

Yeo said that if he went back and looked at Heatley’s shifts, he’d see a good forechecking game, puck strength, making plays on entries and good decisions.

“That was kind of the message, you do the right things, and eventually you’ll get rewarded,” Yeo said.

Heatley declined to come out and talk to the press tonight.

-- Granlund continues to play well. One reason why Yeo can’t find a consistent right wing for the top line is because how can he break up the Niederreiter-Granlund-Pominville line right now.

Keith Ballard got the Granlund goal started with a headman pass that was deflected at center-ice by Granlund (may have been intentionally) to send Pominville into the zone. Cory Schneider stopped Pominville, but after Niederreiter tried to bank the rebound off Schneider, Niederreiter nudged the loose puck to Granlund, who slammed it into an open net.

“I point to where he scored the goal from and I look back to where he was a year ago, and I don’t think he would have been in that position,” Yeo said of Granlund. “He’s in the middle of the ice a lot more. He’s taken everything to heart that we’ve asked from him and he just continues to grow.”

-- Hopefully Charlie Coyle is indeed day-to-day, but if he did aggravate that knee injury, one would think he’d miss some time. I’d say doubtful for Tuesday with no practice Monday.

--On the Mitchell goal, Ryan Suter fed Parise to the left of Schneider, and the Wild vet put a soft slot at the net with bodies crashing. The puck ricocheted off Schneider, off Mitchell and then former Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky and in.

There was a certain irony. Zidlicky, who demanded to be traded in 2012 because he felt handcuffed by Yeo, didn’t score a goal in 41 games during Yeo’s rookie season before being dealt to the Devils. In a way, it was Zidlicky’s first goal for Yeo.

No blog Monday unless there’s news. Talk to you Tuesday.

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