Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Postgame: Young kids, defense again look stellar as Wild crushes Dallas

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 13, 2013 - 9:25 AM

Moments after Cities 97’s Paul Fletcher got the crowd booing by asking what fans thought former North Stars/Dallas Stars owner Norm Green was up to on the chilly evening, the same crowd was on its feet roaring thanks to the pride of UMD, Justin Fontaine.

Good evening from the X, where the Wild pounded the Dallas Stars 5-1 tonight to improve to 2-1-2. Read the gamer for details and more quotes, but Fontaine and Matt Dumba scored their first NHL goals, Matt Cooke registered his second straight two-point game, Zach Parise scored his fourth goal, Nino Niederreiter scored his first goal as a Wild, Jared Spurgeon had two assists and Josh Harding made 18 saves.

“They were ready. We weren’t reasy to play them,” Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas told me. “They outworked us and outskated us. They’re a good team. They’ve been some good acquisitions over this summer again. It’s a solid team. We’re going to have to face them a lot. We’ve got to forget about this one and learn from it.”

Fontaine, whom I have been told won a national title at the X for the Bulldogs, got the party started just 12 seconds into tonight’s game to break Dany Heatley’s franchise record for fastest goal to start a game by a second. Matt Cooke picked off a pass and Fontaine whipped a rolling backhander underneath Dan Ellis.

Told he scored his first NHL goal by breaking a franchise record, he goes, “That was a record? That’s sweet. That’s awesome.” He says his first goal puck is heading straight to his folks’ home in Alberta.

Update: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Fontaine also matched the quickest goal ever from the start of a game by a player scoring the first goal of his NHL career: Rick Boh (in his seventh NHL game) scored his first career goal for the North Stars 12 seconds into a game at Boston Garden on Feb. 27, 1988.

Ten minutes later, Cooke stole a puck from Alex Goligoski and scored on a wraparound, a goal that would become Cooke’s second consecutive game-winning goal.

Most impressively though is this morning, coach Mike Yeo met with the Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Fontaine line and told them their task for the night was to shut down the Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Rich Peverley line, which lit up Winnipeg the night before. The Seguin line was minus-2.

Fontaine was so good tonight. He’s strong on the wall, he’s got a great stick and was constantly breaking up Dallas rushes in the neutral zone, he was making plays. I asked Yeo why he has so much confidence putting a rookie (a 25-year-old rook, but still a rook) like Fontaine on that line and giving such responsibility rather than more of a veteran like Torrey Mitchell.

Cue the coach: “I think he showed a lot of it tonight. Composure with the puck. We’ve talked about how we want to be a puck possession team and defending is a lot easier if you have the puck. We saw a couple plays he made coming out of the defensive zone through the neutral zone in the third period that if we just chip that up and chip that ahead, then it’s going to their defensemen and they’re countering back on us.”

The Wild continues to defend so well, largely because it has the puck all night.

The Wild outshot the Stars 36-19 (gave up 15 shots to Winnipeg on Thursday) and now have outshot its opponents 162-107 this season. The Wild has allowed a league-low 21.4 shots per game. The shot advantage in the second period this season is 65-25. The Wild and Sharks are the only two teams in the NHL to have outshot each of their opponents.

One storyline tonight is Dany Heatley was moved from the first to second power-play unit and it paid immediate dividends. The move makes all the sense in the world because having a left-shot in the high slot never seemed to result in good looks for Heatley. So the Wild moved Jason Pominville to that spot, put Spurgeon on the right points and then went with a second unit where Heatley played with Niederreiter (who was awesome tonight) and Mikael Granlund (who was awesome tonight) with Dumba and Jonas Brodin at the points.

Heatley, with everybody in the rink thinking he was going to shoot from the top of the right circle, instead sent a perfect cross-ice feed to Dumba, who sneaked into the left circle, and he roofed it for a power-play tally.

Fontaine and Dumba are the fourth Wild tandem to ever score their first NHL goals in the same game. The last, believe it or not, was John Scott and Robbie Earl at Carolina on Nov. 15, 2009.

Two minutes later, Niederreiter, whom Yeo was real happy with because he wants him to keep building on good games and Yeo felt he responded to a good game Thursday with another good game tonight (got all that?), scored. Parise, who is tied for second in the NHL with 30 shots, scored his team-leading fourth in the third period.

Cooke talked about the young kids chipping in, and again, we’re starting to see some real good signs with the young kids not only taking on key roles, but contributing and producing.

“We’re relying a lot on these young kids,” Yeo said. “And they have very important roles, but I’ll tell you what, with every game that goes, we’re gaining more and more confidence, and more importantly, their teammates are gaining more and more confidence in these guys because they’ve been prepared to play the right way. It’s a sign of the young kids maturing quickly.”

And remember, Charlie Coyle is hurt, so he’ll be back at some point hopefully by the end of the month. He was shooting pucks off the ice today.

Harding was again solid and should start Monday in Buffalo as the Wild kicks off a four-game trip to Buffalo, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida. (If you get TSN somehow, I’ll be on TSN’s Off the Record, a half-hour panel discussion show, Tuesday afternoon).

Darcy Kuemper will start for Iowa against Oklahoma City on Sunday and then likely rejoin the Wild in Buffalo. I think there’s a good chance he starts in Toronto on Tuesday. I just don’t think Niklas Backstrom will be ready. Interesting story ahead will be if Yeo continues to ride Harding.

He had a great camp (0.83 goals against average in exhibition games), is now 2 for 2 in starts, has a 1.07 goals against average and .944 save percentage, and Backstrom wasn’t playing particularly well before his injury to begin with.

 That’s it for me. Please check out the gamer, Pominville notebook on returning to Buffalo and my Sunday Insider on Thomas Hertl.

There may be no blog Sunday unless there’s news. I believe Backstrom will at least be on the trip. But I’ve got an early afternoon flight to Buffalo. So perhaps, you’ll next hear from me next on here after the morning skate in Buffalo. I’ll also have a good story in Monday’s paper.

Big four-game trip coming up. Enjoy your Sunday.

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