Frantic Wild fans freaking out over the Wild’s winless start can breathe a little easier after the Wild prevailed for the first time this season Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
In a solid all-around effort that only surrendered 15 shots, the Wild became the final Western Conference team to earn a ‘W’ in the standings. It came in its fourth game by a 2-1 score at Xcel Energy Center.
“Biggest thing is it’s just good to get both points,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Needless to say, I think we needed that.”
In a game the Wild once again severely outchanced its opponent, Jonas Brodin and Matt Cooke scored the goals and Josh Harding made 14 saves in his first start for injured Niklas Backstrom. The Wild peppered Ondrej Pavelec with 30 shots but couldn’t build on a one-goal lead despite good looks.
“It was very similar to the first three games,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “The only difference is we came out on top. There’s a really small margin, but tonight we came out on the winning end.”
The 1-1-2 Wild attempted 63 shots on goal and won a franchise-record 73.8 percent of its faceoffs (45 of 61, with Kyle Brodziak and Zenon Konopka winning 79 percent of their draws).
One big reason the Wild pinned the Jets in their end for extended periods was because of this puck possession.
“For the last two days, we talked about little things,” Yeo said. “We had some really big blocked shots, we had some faceoff [wins]. … It’s the little things that add up to make a difference.”
Looking for an offensive spark and a greater sense of urgency, Yeo scrambled his four lines. The big move was swapping Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville between Lines 1 and 2, yet coincidentally, the third line of Cooke-Brodziak and interchangeable Justin Fontaine and Torrey Mitchell broke out.
Brodin scored off a rush with Kyle Brodziak and Cooke, then he followed suit by scoring the eventual winning goal, the 23rd of his career and second goal as a Wild, in the second period by pouncing on Mitchell’s rebound.
“I’m just thankful they don’t ask how,” Cooke joked.
Yeo changed up the top two lines in large part to get Dany Heatley (no points in four games) going. The Heatley-Mikael Granlund-Pominville line generated chances, and Yeo was thrilled by Granlund’s game. Niederreiter looked great with Parise and Mikko Koivu. That line set the tone much of the night by creating chances, hounding the puck and exuding constant effort.
Yeo also felt rookie defenseman Matt Dumba took “another big step” and veteran defenseman Clayton Stoner was a “warrior.”
There were several agonizing junctures, simply because the Wild could again outplay an opponent so badly (at one point in the second, shots were 12-1) and yet not convert. Breakouts were clean, transitions and forechecks were strong.
Still, the glass half full view is the Wild is building its game even if the goals haven’t come yet.
“Eventually we’re going to break through and when that happens, we know we’re going to be a dangerous team,” Brodziak said.
Most importantly, the Wild got that oh-so important ‘W’.
“It’s natural to have, for lack of a better word, a panic,” Cooke said. “But if you honestly look at those [past three] games in an unbiased way, we carried the play for most of each game. But carrying the play for 55 minutes doesn’t get you a win, so we had to prepare to play for 60 minutes. That was the difference tonight.”