After beating Chicago at Xcel Energy Center on Friday night, the Wild had chances to come away with four points--rather than three--when it completed a Central Division back-to-back set Saturday in St. Louis. So why was coach Mike Yeo smiling after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blues?
Yeo looked beyond the outcome to see a team embracing the vision he has for it: resilient, persistent, confident in its ability to make something good happen even when things look dire. And things did look dire early in Saturday's game, when the Blues scored twice on Devan Dubnyk on their first four shots. But goals by Jason Zucker and Erik Haula tied it before the first period was over, and Dubnyk locked it down for the next 55 minutes, 46 seconds--until David Backes's goal with 34 seconds left in overtime--to salvage the point.
The testy Blues gave the Wild the rough welcome Yeo expected. While he thought his players occasionally got too caught up in retaliating against the likes of Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves, he was extremely positive afterward. Yeo loved what he calls the Wild's "different kind of toughness,'' a tenacity that made this a very large point in his estimation.
"We had a lot of really good chances,'' Yeo said. "We had a couple missed opportunities, whether the power play or a couple of opportunities we had in overtime. But all things considered, I think we have to be pretty pleased with way we played the game in a back-to-back situation. We knew they were going to play us real hard, and I thought the guys fought hard tonight.
"There are two things I love about this group. One is, we're never out of a game, and the second is that we're tough in our own way. Obviously, St. Louis has a game plan, and they were coming at us. I thought we got a little too involved in it, to be honest--we have to do a better job between the whistles--but I liked how we still jump on loose pucks, still go to the front of the net, still execute. We just keep playing. It's a different kind of toughness, but I know our guys are tough in that way, that’s for sure.''
Zucker had another fine game, extending his career-high point streak to six games. He had five shots, second only to Zach Parise's six, and scored on a beautiful shot moments after Carl Gunnarsson knocked him down and laid on top of him. Yeo would like to see Zucker stay out of scrums, but he doesn't want to douse that fire.
"He's a competitive kid,'' he said of Zucker, who has three goals to go with the six assists that already are a career high. "His competitiveness has come a long way. He almost gets involved in some of it too much. I don’t want to slow him down with that, because that emotion he plays with, that competitiveness, is what helps him be as strong a player as he is right now.''
Yeo also had praise for Haula, part of a fourth line that had another solid game. Haula got time during the three-on-three overtime and finished with one goal on two shots, one hit and seven of 11 faceoffs won. It was Haula's first goal this season, and Yeo said he is earning more ice time and opportunity with his play. Chris Porter registered four hits against his former team, and Ryan Carter fought former Wild teammate Kyle Brodziak midway through the first period.
"We had a lot of guys step up and start playing well,'' Zucker said. "The fourth line really played great. They really changed the tempo.''
The Wild now are 0-2 in overtime games this season, with road losses to the Blues and to Los Angeles on Oct 16. Yeo said he wants to tinker with personnel and strategy in the three-on-three format; Saturday, he said, there were players he wanted to get on the ice who didn't get off the bench, and there were some shifts that were too long.
"Four (points) would have been nice,'' Yeo said. "We had a real good chance to get four. We had some real good looks. Even in overtime, we had a couple good looks. I'm just more pleased we came into a tough game after back-to-backs; we knew they were going to play real hard against us. I liked our start. We ended up down 2-0 before we could get ourselves into it, but I liked the way we responded to that. I think there's a lot of positives to that.''
--Ryan Suter had 30:23 of ice time, his highest total this season, and assisted on Zucker's goal.
--The Blues outhit the Wild 16-3 in the first period, but the Wild held a 13-10 edge in hits the rest of the way.
--The Wild's power play sputtered, going 0-for-5 and getting only one shot on goal during a 62-second five-on-three.
--The Blues are 4-0-1 at home this season and 8-2-1 overall, with a three-game win streak--despite a long injury list that includes leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jaden Schwartz and Patrik Berglund.