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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This was pretty much what I expected tonight in Toronto, a grind-out-two-points and get-out-of-dodge victory.
Anybody who thought the Wild would just roll into Toronto and blow out the lowly Leafs hasn’t watched a lot of Wild games. Even through the Wild’s 13-1-2 road record under Devan Dubnyk and now franchise-record nine consecutive road wins, the Wild grinds out victories.
The scores of the 13 road wins under Dubnyk: 7-0 (OK, discount that one because it was in Buffalo), 2-1, 1-0, 4-2, 3-2, 4-0 (at Edmonton), 4-2, 3-1, 2-1, 3-1, 3-1, 3-2 and now 2-1 tonight.
This game was a scary one because the Wild was facing a bunch of underachieving veterans who have just been getting annihilated in town and a bunch of no-names trying to make a name for themselves. Ryan Suter said the first period was a feeling out process because you’re just trying to get used to how the Leafs would play and how these kids he never heard of would play.
What also made this game scary is the Leafs had zilch to play for. So after a string of tight-checking, defensive-minded, hard-fought contests against the playoff contenders, the Wild suddenly was playing a loose team that wanted to play run and gun hockey.
“We couldn’t generate our o-zone because our D had to make sure to stay on the blue line because they were sending one, two, three guys,” said Thomas Vanek. “It’s tough to play, especially the way we like to play, to cycle the puck and get deep in the o-zone. We couldn’t establish that o-zone time. But at the end of the day, got two points, so we can’t be too sad about that.”
Coach Mike Yeo said, “They were spreading us out. I don’t think we were necessarily playing as tight in our structure and with as much detail as we normally do, which allowed for some of those situations to build some speed. One area we definitely have to be better is with the puck. We didn’t manage the puck very well. We weren’t strong enough on it.”
Showing off its depth yet again, the Wild got two goals from the third line, one from Charlie Coyle off a Vanek rebound, the other from Vanek himself for, finally, a big 2-0 lead off a Suter drop pass 9:08 into the third. Six goals, four assists now on an eight-game point streak for Vanek.
Devan Dubnyk, who was so good, had his seventh shutout bid of the season ruined by the pride of Minnetonka High, Jake Gardiner, with 6:24 left, but Dubnyk made 17 of his 35 saves in the third period and lifted the Wild to a big W heading into Tuesday’s game against the Islanders.
All playoff contenders the Wild is battling with – Calgary, Winnipeg, Los Angeles – won, so unless Dubnyk says he can’t go, one would assume Dubnyk will start his 33rd consecutive game Tuesday. That would be the most in the NHL since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row in 2010-11.
The Wild’s PK went 4 for 4 tonight and is now 33 for 34 the past 14 road games.
2 of the PK’s came with Erik Haula in the box and Kyle Brodziak in the locker room for impressively standing up for Haula and Jared Spurgeon by confronting big, tough Dion Phaneuf, who once annihilated the Wild’s Stephane Veilleux in a memorable fight in Calgary (a game the Wild coughed up a 3-0 lead after the fight if I remember correctly; Jacques Lemaire was ticked), and fighting the Leafs captain.
On a PK, Phaneuf had checked Haula hard and then slashed Spurgeon, which is what ticked off Brodziak. The Wild gave bigtime props to Brodziak for the scrap.
“We have different guys step in for teammates at different times, but nobody’s done it more than [Brodziak] this year,” Yeo said. “And that says an awful lot to your teammates when you do something like that. Not that we want to play that game, but at the same time, there comes a time where if things are going the wrong way, you have to let the team know we have that pack of wolves mentality.”
But on an 18-second 5-on-3, Mikko Koivu won a massive draw to kill off the 2-man advantage and then the Wild killed off the rest of the power play in the waning seconds of the second to preserve a 1-0 lead.
The Wild lost 35 of 61 faceoffs, but Koivu won 15 of 26. Coyle won 1 of 10, but that one was the faceoff that led to his 11th goal and eighth point in 10 games. Tired of getting roasted by Trevor Smith, Coyle said he tried a new way to beat him by not even going for the puck and driving forward through him. Luckily, Justin Fontaine and Vanek also went with him, something he said he didn’t tell them to do. Coyle scored off Vanek’s rebound.
Humorously, I thought it was a set play. When I asked Coyle if it was, Koivu chimed in, “Keep it quiet,” to his teammate with a big, mischievous grin.
Coyle finally said when Koivu walked away and stopped being the peanut gallery, “Just happened like that, Van shot the puck and rebound. I didn’t tell Vanek to jump like that or Fonzie to go. And it worked out. I was just trying a new way to beat him.
“I don’t think we were playing our game, kind of going back and forth with them, and not getting pucks deep and leaving pucks up for grabs. They’re a good transition team. But we won.”
That’s it for me. Unbelievably early flight to JFK in the morning, so I have a wakeup call in three hours. As an old Islanders fan, my last emotional trip to Nassau Coliseum tomorrow (well, unless the Wild faces the Isles in the Stanley Cup Finals)!
I’ll be on Fox Sports North pregame and first intermission. I’ll blog whenever we have lineup information. Not sure the Wild will skate in the morning.
The Wild continues to respond impressively to losses.
Besides the fact it hasn’t lost by more than a goal since Jan. 19, the Wild hasn’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 19-20 or consecutive games in regulation since Jan. 11 and 13. That was the pre-Devan Dubnyk, who today made 26 saves in a 6-3 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the Wild looked nervous at the start. Wild coach Mike Yeo said the Wild looked sleepy at the start, but Dubnyk helped the Wild settle in by making a huge save early 1-on-1 with offensive stud Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored a goal and assist on eight shots.
Hitch’s former player, Chris Stewart, got the Wild going. With the Blues playing a tad too much in the Wild end, Stewart made something out of nothing by poking Jaden Schwartz’s pass from behind the net up top to Alex Pietrangelo out of the zone and into open space.
Stewart, a giant man, then found a burst of speed I remember him having in past years with Colorado but hadn’t seen yet with Minnesota. He turned on the jets, created separation and made a shrewd move to open up Brian Elliott’s five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Justin Fontaine made a neat play to hold the blue, wristed a shot on net and the puck tipped Zbynek Michalek’s stick, then hit Thomas Vanek’s arm, popped in the air and in.
That was one of the “goofy deflections,” as Hitchcock called them, that did in the Blues. In the second, Zach Parise and Jonas Brodin scored 26 seconds apart to end Elliott’s night.
Tarasenko tightened the Wild’s throat with a goal and assist in 1:39 to make it 4-2, but Yeo called time, implored his team to find that urgency again and Fontaine scored a huge goal to make it 5-2. Mikko Koivu added a power-play goal in the third.
The only negative mark for the game was the fact the Wild’s penalty kill amazingly gave up two power-play goals in a game for the second time this season. That’s fairly remarkable right there.
Two wins against the Blues seven days apart. Not too shabby if the Wild happens to face them in the playoffs.
“The postseason is so different,” Parise said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. We’ve got to worry about just getting there. We’re playing well and it was a big win for us against these guys. That’s always a tough opponent.
“You look at the standings, there’s not a lot of room. Regardless of who we’re playing, we need to win. We know how tough these guys are to play against. We don’t have room right now to have games off.”
The Kings lost today, so Wild’s five up on a playoff spot now.
“We’ve won a lot of games, but we haven’t been separating ourselves from anybody,” Yeo said.
Couple interesting stats:
Wild now has 153 5-on-5 goals. That’s third in the NHL behind the Lightning and Islanders.
The Wild has outscored its opponents 93-52 for a plus-41 differential in the past 30 games under Dubnyk. In the FOURTEEN games before, the Wild was outscored 58-32.
Vanek extended his point streak to seven games, which is first on the team this year and his longest since a 10-game one last year. I wrote a good amount him in the gamer and notebook, and also Stewart.
Brodin scored a goal and assist, had his first career winning goal and was plus-3. Ryan Suter (plus-3) and Charlie Coyle each had two assists, Parise’s goal was his team-leading 28th and Fontaine registered his second career three-point game.
“Anytime you get big wins against teams like that increases your confidence,” Fontaine said. “And knowing we might have them as a first-round matchup, we know things they like to do and what to look for.”
Matt Dumba led the Wild in ice time by a second over Suter (22:45).
The Wild, 12-1-2 under Dubnyk on the road, now plays back-to-back games at Toronto and the Islanders, so the franchise-record eight-game road winning streak will be on the line.
The Wild doesn’t practice Sunday (travel day only) so I’ll be doing a Brodin story for Monday’s paper. The kid’s just an incredible player and has had a huge bounceback year from last season. I’ve also got something else cooking in Toronto that should make for a cool story down the road.
Also, check out my Sunday Insider on Dubnyk talking about his contract "situation" on startribune.com/wild.
I’ll be on KFAN for a couple segments Monday at 9 a.m.
The Wild better figure out this home futility fast because it’s back in a playoff dogfight.
Eleven games left, six at home and the Wild’s again playing ordinary hockey at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild has lost four of six at home now (one regulation win in that stretch), the latest coming Thursday, 3-2, to Washington.
Remember, prior to a six-game home winning streak that preceded this 2-4 home stretch, the Wild lost eight of 10 at home (2-4-4).
The Wild, 12-1-2 on the road since Jan. 15 and winners of a franchise-record eight in a row on the road, is 19-11-5 at home. Pretty blah for a team that started 7-1 at home and has 20 road wins. I’m no math major, but that’s 12-10-5 in its past 27 home games.
Most damaging is when the Wild loses, and this only the sixth regulation loss since Jan. 15, the Wild always seems to lose by one goal. The Wild’s last seven losses since Jan. 19 (including one overtime, one shootout) have been by one goal.
The Wild is 18-11-7 in one-goal games. The Anaheim Ducks are 28-1-7.
And, frustratingly if you’re the Wild (and you, I’m certain) is the Wild often doesn’t tie these games up in the end to at least get the “loser point” everybody else seems to get nightly. Winnipeg and Los Angeles are the kings of that.
The Jets did it tonight, rallying from a goal down to beat St. Louis in a shootout. The Jets, now one point behind the Wild for the top wildcard spot, are 11-12 in overtime. The Wild is 7-7. The Kings did it last night against Anaheim, and as the norm lost but at least got a point. The Kings have lost FOURTEEN games in overtime and shootouts.
Again, the Wild is 7-7 in OT/shootouts. Other playoff contenders? Chicago is 12-6, Calgary 13-5, St. Louis 13-6, Anaheim 14-7, Nashville 13-8.
In a league that rewards losing, the Wild doesn’t lose well enough at home especially – or at least put itself in enough positions like the game in Nashville on Tuesday to get to overtime enough so it can pull out more W's.
Tonight, Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, scored his 46th and 47th goals – the last one off a set faceoff play 3:05 into the third for his eventual league-leading 11th winning goal.
“His shot’s lethal,” Chris Stewart said. “He has one of the best releases in the league. You lose that faceoff clean and it’s already in the back of the net. He has a cannon. He was the difference maker tonight.”
The Wild twice pulled two-goal deficits to one, the last coming on Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal batting Thomas Vanek’s rebound out of mid-air from the side of the net with 5:56 left, but in the end, a last-minute flurry again wound up with no tying goal. The Wild attempted seven shots in that 1:23 with Devan Dubnyk on the bench.
Coach Mike Yeo said the similar trend at home in all these one-goal losses is the fact that the Wild’s making one big mistake or a couple breakdowns that it normally doesn’t do in its simplistic road style.
Last home game in a 2-1 loss to Anaheim, it was Matt Dumba’s turnover in front of the net on a 4-on-4 that led to the game-winning goal. Tonight on a 4-on-4, Ovechkin, going in the zone 1-on-3 and scoring off his own rebound on an awesome corral of the puck, and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 39 seconds apart on 4-on-4’s. Kuznetsov’s goal came when Jonas Brodin uncharacteristically skating in front of the net with the puck and was stripped.
The Wild has one 5-on-5 goal in the past two home games. On the road, the Wild drives the net more, creates scrums and Yeo said they need to do that more at home.
The Wild has allowed 10 4-on-4 goals this year and scored five (only one in non-overtime 4-on-4’s). In comparison, the dangerous Caps have outscored opponents 11-2 on 4-on-4s.
Tonight, fourth-liner Tom Wilson drew two 4-on-4s, which seemed to be a Colorado Avalanche tactic against the Wild in last year’s playoffs.
You can read more about all that in the gamer.
Still, this was another home game where Yeo said, “We’re not that far off. The game could have taken a much different turn many times.”
But it didn’t and St. Louis comes here Saturday.
We usually play pretty well here. For whatever reason, we just haven’t had a lot of success at home,” Zach Parise said.
Dubnyk said of the home issues, “We’re not going to start thinking that way. We’re always dangerous at home, overwhelming here. We’ll continue to work and tweak some things so this continues to be a tough place to play.”
Flames won tonight, so the Kings fell back to ninth again – three points behind the Wild with a game in hand.
The standings are getting tight. So no, Dubnyk will not be getting a rest anytime soon.
Talk to you after Friday’s practice.
As Mike Yeo joked after tonight’s come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win over Nashville, “I’m glad we spent most of the practice yesterday working on our power play. I guess hopefully we’ll save them when we really need them.”
For the second time in 13 games, the Wild didn’t draw a power play, so it (technically) continues to be scoreless on the road power play since Feb. 1 (0 for 17 the past 10 road games). The Wild has drawn two or fewer power plays in 12 of the past 17 games.
But one big reason why the Wild has now won a franchise-record eight consecutive road games and is 12-1-2 in 15 games under Devan Dubnyk is its NHL-best penalty kill. The Wild’s penalty kill is 28 for 29 the past 12 road games and 60 for 63 the past 24 games overall.
Obviously, it starts with Dubnyk, but man, tonight guys like Jonas Brodin, Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak were so good on the penalty kill. The Wild killed four, including a 53-second 5-on-3 late in the second after Roman Josi scored twice in 45 seconds to give Nashville a 2-1 lead going into the third.
If it had been 3-1 going into the third, it could have been lights out for Minnesota.
But the deficit stayed one, and in the third, the Wild got back on its toes, generated a bunch of chances, outshot the Predators 11-6 after having nine shots through two periods and finally tied the score on Charlie Coyle’s second goal of the game with 6:41 left.
Great setup by Nino Niederreiter entering the zone, and then Chris Stewart after some impressive patience to wait for Coyle to come into the zone off the bench.
Then, in overtime (and please read the gamer because it’s there where I wrote mostly about Matt Dumba), the blossoming 20-year-old scored his first career overtime goal only 22 seconds in for the fastest road overtime win in Wild history.
After an incredible individual effort by former Pred Ryan Suter in the D-zone to fight through two guys and spring Dumba on a 3-on-2 with a pass from the ice, Zach Parise crossed the blue line and had to read if Dumba would drive the net or set up for a one-timer.
Parise read it right, dropped a pass and Dumba unleashed his seventh goal, tied for third in the NHL among rookie defensemen. He is plus-16 his past 15 games, had three shots tonight and a career-high five blocked shots in 21:08 of ice time.
Here's the goal:
“Nice way to cap off a real solid game,” Yeo said of Dumba, hinting that he loved his defensive game even more than his offensive game.
Parise said, “Everyone’s so happy for him. He’s played so well. He’s got a bomb of a shot. We saw it there. It’s fun to see the way he’s progressed. He’s been awesome for us. It’s been awesome to see the way he has developed and progressed. They’re giving him more and more responsibility and he keeps playing better and better. It’s so good for our team the way he’s playing.”
The comeback win when trailing after two periods was the Wild’s seventh, which is fourth in the NHL.
Yeo said it’s because “there’s a confidence in our game. Even though we get down, we don’t change our game.”
It was a frustrating game, Parise said, especially the way the Preds bottled the Wild up and the way the Wild couldn’t draw a power play. Dumba said of the Wild’s tough second period, “You’re going to have those little plays there, but it’s what you do after that. Our mindset was just keep pressuring them.”
Dubnyk made 25 saves and has allowed two goals or fewer in 23 of 28 consecutive starts. He is 21-5-1 with the Wild with a 1.67 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. Overall, he is second in the NHL with a 2.08 goals-against average, tied for second with a .929 save percentage, tied for fourth with six shutouts and tied for seventh with 30 wins.
All the Wild D were good. I really liked Brodin again and I couldn't believe how Christian Folin didn't miss a beat. Coyle continued his string of solid games. Suter now has eight assists in 12 games against his former team. Parise has eight points in his past seven games.
That’s it for me. Two-game homestand starts Thursday against Washington. If the Wild doesn’t scrap practice Wednesday, Kent Youngblood will be coming to you from practice.
I’ll be hosting a live podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul with Jim Souhan at 4:30 p.m. It can be found at souhanunfiltered.com.
Good news, Mike Yeo indicated Devan Dubnyk will start Tuesday in Nashville.
Actually, the Wild coach said kiddingly he’d let us know after Dubnyk committed larceny tonight in St. Louis.
With the Wild outshot 42-19, Dubnyk made a season-high 41 saves to lift the Wild to a 3-1 victory.
It was not only the Wild’s franchise-record-tying seventh road win in a row, it was the Wild’s first regulation win in its past 13 visits to St. Louis dating way back to Oct. 20, 2007.
Dubnyk, rock star.
Outshot 11-5 in the first, he held the game scoreless. Outshot 20-5 in the second, the Wild escaped the period tied 1-1 and the only goal like most opposing goals against Dubnyk wasn’t clean – a David Backes redirection.
The Wild felt during the second intermission that it was in a good spot, tied 1-1 going into the third in a tough building. Just win a period. The Wild settled down, outshot the Blues 5-2 in the first 10 minutes and after Dubnyk made a string a big stops, Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak scored 17 seconds apart to give the Wild a 3-1 lead.
At that point with 6:16 left, the Wild was being outshot 39-15. But big win for the Wild, which is an NHL-best 11-1-2 on the road under Dubnyk since the Jan. 14 trade.
Big win because Winnipeg won, so this keeps the Wild three up in the top wildcard race.
Big win because Los Angeles and Calgary both lost, so the Wild is now four up on 9th-place L.A. and two up on Calgary, although Flames are third in the Pacific. But if the Wild can stay ahead of the Flames and second-in-the-Pacific Canucks (one point up on Vancouver), that gives a cushion because if the Kings catch those teams, they’d fall below the Wild in the wildcard race and confusing playoff format. Hope that makes sense. It’s late.
I didn’t realize this until I got to the rink today, but Dubnyk was 0-7 lifetime against the Blues with a 4.72 goals-against average and .873 save percentage.
“This is kind of my unicorn,” he said afterward. “I got my first start against these guys in Edmonton. It was real ugly. For some reason it didn’t seem to matter how good I felt in a game against these guys, it always ended up 4-1 or 5-1 by the end of the game. It’s nice to get out there with a different team and get one tonight so I can stop thinking about it.”
Coach Mike Yeo felt Friday against Anaheim, the Wild was done in by goalie John Gibson when Minnesota deserved better. Tonight, Dubnyk made things even out.
The second period was the tough period tonight. The Wild was tired from playing the night before, it lost Nate Prosser with a leg injury after being hip-checked by Jori Lehtera (Yeo doesn’t think it’s extremely serious, but he’s questionable for Tuesday’s game at Nashville, so Christian Folin will likely draw back in) and everything was exasperated by the long change.
But Dubnyk was solid.
Thirteen seconds after Backes scored, Zach Parise thought he tied the score. He extended his left foot, but he deflected Jared Spurgeon’s shot with his stick first and then the puck directed in. The NHL has become more lenient with redirects off the skate, but Parise’s goal was disallowed by Toronto for an apparent kicking motion.
Parise, who had a goal dubiously disallowed in this building last year or the year before that for a high-stick, said sarcastically that it was a heckuva play by him to deflect the puck with his stick and still know to kick at that puck.
Regardless, with the Wild fans fuming on Twitter, Thomas Vanek scored his 600th point, 17th goal and fourth in four games 33 seconds after that after nice set-ups by Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine. Vanek, by the way, played a season-low 11 minutes, 11 seconds.
The most bizarre situation of the night came 1:41 in when Patrik Berglund deflected Jay Bouwmeester’s shot for a 1-0 lead. The play went to video review, and Toronto ruled it was a good goal because it wasn’t scored with a high-stick.
Dubnyk nearly lost his mind, skating right up to the refs, then looking at the replay again on the scoreboard and seeing the puck actually hit the outside of the net. He began frantically smacking his stick on the ice, and finally the horn sounded just as the ref was about to drop the puck. If he had, the goal would have counted even when discovered after the fact.
“I heard the tip, I never saw the puck and the horn went, so right away I just stood up and thought they scored,” Dubnyk told me. “And then Dums (Matt Dumba) looked at me and said it never went in. They showed the replay and I’m like, ‘OK, it never went in.’ Then I was like, ‘What’s taking so long, what are they looking at? It never went in.’
“I’d love to know what happened behind the scenes. They announced good goal and the ref came over to me because obviously it’s not their call at that point and said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, it went to video and they said it was good video to say it’s a goal, that’s all I can tell ya.’
“When I saw the replay again, I started banging my stick like crazy because I figured they must have checked for the high stick and not that it went in. Then the horn went.”
When I told Dubnyk, “Can you imagine if they dropped the puck,” he said, “Well, couldn’t they look back at it?” When I said no, he said, “Oh my goodness, let’s not even think about that.”
Yeo, too, was stunned when he watched the replay that they nearly dropped the puck. “It’s plain as day.”
If they dropped that puck, he said in understated tone, “That would have been unfortunate.”
Dumba, plus-2, three blocked shots, very physical, robbed by Elliott -- after his turnover led to the game-winning goal for Anaheim on Friday. “This is a great response game for him,” Yeo said, adding he talked with Dumba after that mistake and told him to put it behind him, that he’s done too much to help this team to let one bad play bring him down.
Yeo, after Niederreiter scored, sent out the fourth line of Brodziak, Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and told them, “We need a strong shift.”
Yeo said kiddingly, “Of course I was expecting them to score a goal. That was a huge.”
Niederreiter said how frustrating the game was for his line with Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart. He said they were chasing all game because of the great play of Alex Pietrangelo, but after missing on some incredible chances against Anaheim, it felt great to cash in on his 22nd goal and fifth winner.
Dubnyk said it was huge coming in here and winning and just getting the confidence they can win here. This is a possible first-round matchup after all.
While the Wild wasn’t dominated physically like many games in St. Louis, the Wild did have a similar feel where the Wild couldn’t generate much of anything because it couldn’t sustain any time in the offensive zone. The Wild just wasn’t very good coming out of d-zone coverage.
The Wild entered the game 2-7-2 in its past 11 at St. Louis with no regulation wins in 12 games since Oct. 20, 2007. In those 11 games, the Wild was outscored 38-19 and outshot 322-255. Tonight was 42-19, and it’s not just the shots that make life difficult on the goalie, it’s the zone time.
Dubnyk said it’s especially grueling for him because the way he has improved, it’s all about finding pucks, which he said is hard work because he keeps low and moves around constantly and works hard to see through legs.
But man, he looked cool and calm all night tonight.
“I think he's got a different team in front of him right now,” Backes said. “They're doing a good job blocking shots, keeping pucks more to the outside, and if he's seeing it, he's stopping it. Their record reflects how well he's playing and how well they're playing in front of him.”
That’s it for me. The Wild is off Sunday and my EDITOR Chris Miller is covering practice for me Monday. I’ll be back with you on the blog Tuesday in Nashville, although I’ll have a story in Monday’s paper.
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