It’s only one win, a 2-1 victory here tonight at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks, but there were some good signs that the Wild needs to try to build on as it returns home for a brief two-game homestand against Toronto and Colorado before hitting the road again for three.
1. As Mike Yeo has been almost begging for recently, the Wild stayed patient in its game tonight. Even at times when it was maddeningly inefficient offensively despite having the better of the chances, despite a power play (more on the power play below) that could have destroyed momentum and confidence, the Wild defended well throughout tonight’s contest, was better with the puck and got solid goaltending from Devan Dubnyk.
2. The Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line spent much of the night with the puck and in the offensive zone. Parise was still working off the rust and did turn the puck over a few times, but it was Parise who sent Granlund in alone before Ryan Suter’s winning goal with 7:56 left.
Pominville, who went 21 games without a goal until snapping the drought Saturday, scored for a second straight game, too. He had six shots and the three forwards combined for 15 of the Wild’s 36 as the Wild outshot an opponent on the road for the first time in five games. The trio combined for 22 shots attempts.
Granlund had two assists and now has 10 points in the past 10 games.
“Our line was supporting each other better all over the ice,” Pominville said. “That’s more the way we need to play offensively, but the way we defended was way better and we didn’t give up as much and that led to us having the puck a lot more.”
On his goal, a wraparound on a Granlund rebound in the first period, Pominville said it was the type of goal that “probably wouldn’t have went in” during his long, miserable slump, “but it’s the way this game goes. You get one and you’re confidence gets a little bit higher. I just played a better game overall. I don’t know if it’s because of the goal [Saturday] or not, but it felt good to get the first one and not have to worry about it anymore.”
The updated game story, which will be up on startribune.com/wild later, is mostly about the Suter winning goal coming one day after his outspoken comments regarding the defense pairs Monday and his desire to play with a righty, namely Jared Spurgeon.
Assistant coach Rick Wilson smartly mixed it up tonight, and Suter played with both Jonas Brodin but mostly with Spurgeon, especially for offensive zone draws. I think Wilson made the move to get Suter and Spurgeon back together semi-permanently after Brodin in the second period had a tough time keeping a puck in the offensive zone on his off side.
Coach Mike Yeo said this morning this would be the plan, that Suter could very well end up playing a lot of shifts with Spurgeon depending on what transpired in the game.
After the game, because Suter scored the winner, us media wretches flooded his stall. He laughed and said, “You guys are killing me. I hate this.”
Suter’s comments from Monday has caused a lot of ribbing in the locker room and apparently was the talk on the team plane as players flew to Chicago on Monday. As we interviewed Suter, Parise yelled over and asked reporters to hold their mics and recorders in their right hands.
Afterward, Parise said, “It’s all in good fun.”
When I asked Suter about playing with Spurgeon a lot tonight, he said kiddingly, “No comment,” then said, “They mixed us up. I understand what they were trying to do and it worked out.”
On the win, Suter said, “We hadn’t played well. We hadn’t played consistent in a long time, and now we finally put a game together. Now we have to build on it. We can’t take a step back. Everyone’s getting better. We have to get better. … We finally got everybody going in the right direction.”
Devan Dubnyk was superb. He made 30 saves and was only beaten by a flubbed shot from Patrick Kane. Only the NHL leading scorer and a guy with points in 20 straight could score on a shot like that. But Dubnyk was real good, made clutch saves throughout and brushed off a sore neck sustained in the final seconds of the first period.
“It’s huge to get back in the winning column and play a real solid game,” Dubnyk said. “It’s easy to start to look at the end result when you’ve lost a few, but I think we did a good job tonight of keeping it as small as we could. We stuck to our game and played a solid road game.”
Yeo said, “That’s a real good response from our group. You’re nervous because you can come in here against that team and you can play a good game and do a lot of things and potentially things might not go your way, but I like the way we stayed with it.
On playing Suter a lot with Spurgeon, Yeo said, “That’s the way we had planned it out. He plays big minutes. That’s always the case. He’s going to play with a lot of guys. But regardless of who he was out there with tonight, that was a great response from Suts. I know the comments, it was sincere. He’s an emotional guy and that happened yesterday, but I think his response tonight was terrific. Obviously getting the game-winning goal, but just his play in general.”
The penalty kill gave up another goal after Duncan Keith lifted Mikko Koivu’s stick and swiped the puck to set up Kane. The power play went 0 for 4 and was stationary throughout, although the advantage registered eight shots.
If you’ve heard me lately on the radio or my mini-Twitter rant at the St. Cloud State game the other night, I think it’s time the Wild figures out a way to get a righty on the half wall instead of left-shot Mikael Granlund on the No. 1 unit.
The penalty kills have adjusted from the early-season success of the No. 1 unit and have started pushing Granlund down the wall on his forehand where he has nowhere to go. I think it would make sense to move Granlund to the power-play point of the second unit or put Marco Scandella there and move Jared Spurgeon to that spot on the No. 1 unit if the Wild’s not willing to put Charlie Coyle there.
Coyle did play well in that role during the preseason, particularly during an exhibition game in Columbus.
Yeo basically said tonight that other than the left-shot Granlund, if the Wild’s going to work the setup on that side the way Suter and Parise want it to, the Wild doesn’t have a righty that can play that side
“Playing the half wall is a very different position. Not a lot of guys can do that. There’s a lot of poise, there’s a lot of understanding,” Yeo said. “Up until tonight, our power play was 20 percent, which is pretty good. We know we can be a little bit better, but we’ve had a lot of guys out in that time too.”
Basically, Yeo said the Wild didn’t work the power play Monday in practice because he wanted to work defensive-zone coverage. He said now that Parise is back, he doesn’t want to overreact by changing a bunch of personnel. He said he wants to get some familiarity back by working the power play in some upcoming practices.
How about the Wild playing with a lead for a change on the road?
Pominville provided the Wild with its first lead in regulation in six road games 4 minutes, 9 seconds into the game. The Wild had one lead in the previous eight road games (1-4-3), and that lasted 72 seconds.
Remember, in last year’s second-round sweep at the hands of the Blackhawks, the Wild didn’t lead once in the series.
That’s it for me. If the Wild doesn’t scrap practice Wednesday, Rachel Blount is covering.
I’ll come to you next Thursday morning before the Leafs game. A reminder, Star Tribune Fans Night Out is that night before the game. For package information of how to attend the game and the Chalk Talk with Mark Parrish and me, go to wild.com/fansnightout.
The next podcast with Jim Souhan and myself is Saturday at 4 p.m. at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub. Come on by. Have a good night.
Oh, by the way, one game after the Stars rallied from 3-0 down in the third to beat the Wild in overtime, the Stars blew a 3-0 third-period lead tonight in Calgary and lost in a shootout. Imagine that.