The thought crossed Mike Yeo’s mind in practice Monday. The Wild coach, still seeking ways to generate some goals from his hard-luck offense, began toying with the idea of moving third-line winger Justin Fontaine up to the top line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
The Wild remained mired in the same old pattern Tuesday against Nashville, failing to score despite outshooting the Predators by a wide margin. With the second period winding down at Xcel Energy Center, Yeo made his switch — and it quickly paid off. Fontaine scored his second NHL goal with 67 seconds left in the period, giving the Wild a 2-0 victory that ended a three-game winless streak.
The rookie’s rebound goal supported another sterling effort from the Wild defense, which shined despite losing Jonas Brodin early in the game. Brodin was struck in the face by a puck off the stick of Nashville’s Gabriel Bourque at 2:54 of the first period and was led off the ice while holding a towel to his mouth. Yeo said Brodin was taken to a hospital for X-rays, but the coach had no update on his condition.
A day after Yeo and Parise urged the Wild to fight for more scoring chances around the net, Fontaine did exactly that.
He collected the rebound of Clayton Stoner’s shot and knocked it past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. The Wild outshot the Predators 29-16 and solid team defense, despite Brodin’s absence, helped goaltender Josh Harding earn the Wild’s first shutout of the season.
Jason Pominville added an empty netter for the final margin.
“We shook things up and ended up getting a rebound,’’ said Fontaine, who replaced Nino Niederreiter on the top line. “It’s definitely a good feeling.
“We’ve been struggling to score, but if we keep throwing pucks to the net, they’re going to go in.’’
Keeping pucks out of their own net played just as great a role. In addition to losing Brodin, defenseman Marco Scandella was briefly hobbled after blocking a shot, and Nate Prosser spent five minutes in the penalty box after a third-period fight. The remaining defensemen stood strong with the aid of the forwards, and the Wild’s ability to control play for long stretches helped its cause.
Entering the game, the Wild had allowed 21.8 shots on goal per game, the lowest in the NHL. Tuesday, it surrendered only three shots in the first period en route to holding an opponent to fewer than 20 shots for the fifth time this season.
Its beleaguered penalty kill also pulled out of its doldrums, stopping the Predators twice to shut out an opponent on the power play for only the second time in 10 games.
“I can’t take credit for this one,’’ said Harding, who recorded his eighth career shutout. “I can’t say enough about what the D-men did and what the forwards did. This is for sure a team shutout.’’
The Wild had scored only one goal in each of its three previous games. Monday, Yeo spoke of the need to adopt an attacking mentality, but Rinne kept the game scoreless through the first 38 minutes with several fine saves.
Fontaine said that despite their frustration, the players were determined to score the kind of “greasy goal’’ they knew they would need against the tenacious Predators.
Yeo liked Niederreiter’s play, but he thought a shakeup might spark something. In the waning minutes of the second period, Rinne dived to stop Stoner’s shot; Fontaine darted to the net, corralled the rebound and scored.
Jared Spurgeon provided some last-minute heroics by getting his stick on a Matt Cullen shot that slipped behind Harding, catching it at the goal line.
Yeo praised his team’s focus and control in a tense game and lauded nearly everyone in the lineup. Still, he noted that the Wild cannot be too satisfied.
“I thought overall, it was a solid game,’’ Yeo said. “But we can’t sit here and feel too good about it.