The Wild must have gotten confused with daylight savings.
The expression is “spring forward, fall back,” but for chunks of the first period Sunday night, the Wild looked like it lost an hour’s sleep, not gained it.
There were unforced turnovers, passes off the mark and four minor penalties.
But the Wild’s penalty kill, which has struggled this season, doused each power play and provided the cushion for the sleepy team to awaken refreshed before easily skating to a 4-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Xcel Energy Center.
“We kind of felt our way into the game,” coach Mike Yeo said. “They were dictating the play early. Our leaders, what they were saying on the bench, and more importantly how they went out and performed after that, turned things around for us.”
Playing against an injury-riddled, offensively challenged team missing Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Ryane Clowe, the Wild was opportunistic offensively and as usual got big saves from Josh Harding, who made 19 stops for his ninth career shutout and second of the season.
He is 7-2-1 with a league-best 1.10 goals-against average.
“He’s keeping us in every game,” said Nino Niederreiter, who assisted on three goals.
Mikael Granlund and Torrey Mitchell both scored their first goals of the season, Dany Heatley scored his first with a goalie in net, and Jason Pominville’s empty-netter moved him into third in the NHL with 10 goals. The 8-4-3 Wild won for the fifth time in six games.
“This was another team win. Everyone contributed and pulled their weight,” Harding said.
Former Devils captain Zach Parise, playing for the first time against the franchise that drafted him, assisted on Mitchell’s goal and had three shots.
“As a player, you always hate practicing and scrimmaging against your own team, and that’s what it felt like for me the whole game,” Parise said.
The Wild’s penalty kill entered the game ranked 28th in the NHL and had allowed at least one goal in 12 of 14 games. But it went 3-for-3 in the first period and the Wild learned its lesson, staying out of the box the rest of the game.
“We’d like to think that we should be near the top of the league,” Yeo said. “I’m happy with the direction that the penalty kill is going.”
Less than a minute after the Wild’s second kill, Granlund scored. Cory Schneider turned away Pominville’s shot, but after Niederreiter tried to bank in the rebound, he nudged the loose puck to Granlund, who buried it into an open net. For Granlund, an assist machine lately, the goal extended his point streak to a career-best five games (seven points).
“I’m glad that he got that goal,” Yeo said. “He’s had a lot of chances, and he’s been setting up a lot of plays, but it’s good for him to get that off his back.”
In the second, Mitchell was promoted to the top line with Parise and Mikko Koivu, drove the net and had Parise’s rebound carom off him, then former Wild Marek Zidlicky and into the net.
“Apparently I scored, so I’ll take it,” said Mitchell, who spent the rest of the game on the line.
In the third, Heatley deflected Keith Ballard’s shot for a power-play goal. Heatley, who had one empty-net goal in the first 14 games, seemed sparked by getting fourth-line duty. His passes were tape-to-tape, there were no glaring turnovers and he had three shots.
“He handled it the right way,” Yeo said. “If he didn’t score that goal, I could still sit here and say that was probably his best game.”