Among its recent accolades, the Wild demonstrated a nose for the net that enabled it to outpace some of the more dynamic offenses in the NHL in Tampa Bay and Edmonton.
But how the team prevailed against the Flyers in the finale of a three-game homestand, by locking down the defensive zone en route to yielding a season-low 18 shots in a 4-1 victory in front of an announced crowd of 17,140 at Xcel Energy Center, is much more reflective of the Wild’s identity and its ticket to long-term success.
“That’s kind of back to our game,” winger Marcus Foligno said.
Center Eric Staal scored twice, the recently formed defensive duo of Jonas Brodin and Carson Soucy combined for three points and goalie Alex Stalock turned aside 17 shots to extend the Wild’s point streak on home ice to 12 games (9-0-3). The franchise record is 13, set Dec. 27-Feb. 13, 2018.
Since Nov. 14, the Wild ranks first in the NHL with 24 points (10-1-4).
Not all those successes were defensive clinics like the one the Wild put on Saturday, with photo finishes against the Lightning (5-4) and Oilers (6-5) part of that run. But by showcasing its versatility, the Wild also seems to be rounding into a form that suits it — growth that’s impressive considering it’s without goalie Devan Dubnyk (family illness), captain Mikko Koivu (lower-body injury) and defenseman Jared Spurgeon (hand injury).
“We’re finding ways to win, whether it’s playing good ‘D’ or scoring goals,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It’s a good thing, especially when you’ve got some key guys out.”
Before the Wild hunkered down, Philadelphia scored on its first shot 1 minute, 34 seconds into the first period — a 2-on-1 finish by James van Riemsdyk.
But after that, the Wild seized control.
At 6:16, winger Zach Parise caught a piece of a Kevin Fiala wraparound for his team-leading 13th goal.
Only 1:35 later, Staal tallied his first of the game — sliding in a backhander while Flyers goalie Carter Hart was sprawled out of position.
Staal converted his second of the game, and third in the past two, at 9:47 of the second when he put back a puck that pinballed around the front of the net before kicking out to him. The goal rang up as his 999th career point.
The Flyers had just three shots in the second before making their best push in the third, testing Stalock 10 times. At the other end, Hart turned aside 24 total shots.
“We were skating,” Suter said. “We were moving our feet. We’re a good team when we skate. When we get standing around, teams take advantage of us and I thought in the first period tonight we skated the way we needed to.”
Defenseman Carson Soucy tacked on an end-to-end empty-netter with 2:14 to go, the Wild’s second shorthanded goal of the season. Soucy has three goals and six points in his past six games. Brodin, who was paired with Soucy just last week after Spurgeon was injured, assisted on that goal and Staal’s second.
There were, however, a few blemishes.
Center Joel Eriksson Ek didn’t finish the game, leaving in the second period after looking wobbly following a hit from the Flyers’ Sean Couturier. Whether he plays against the Blackhawks will be decided Sunday.
“He’s a lot better now,” Boudreau said. “So [I’m] not as concerned as when I saw him coming off.”
And the power play remains in a rut, going 0-for-5 to sit 0-for-18 over its past six games. But the penalty kill was airtight (3-for-3).
“We didn’t give them a lot and didn’t give their skill players any time to move and make plays,” Staal said. “It was a gritty win and a good one here to finish the homestand.”