The new Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine third line was a smash hit tonight as the Wild beat the St. Louis Blues to snap a five-game losing streak on New Year’s Eves.
Of course, if Zach Parise returns to the lineup Saturday in Tampa, that line could be no more.
Evening from St. Louis, where set you up for merriment by lowering your expectations exponentially with this afternoon’s blog.
Solid 3-1 win over the Blues tonight as Niederreiter and Haula each had a goal and assist and Fontaine had one assist. Solid overall team win as Devan Dubnyk made 33 saves to start off the four-game road trip that continues Saturday at Tampa Bay on a good note.
Haula played his second game in a row elevated from the fourth line and is taking advantage of this opportunity after recently being scratched three games in a row.
He scored the winning goal with 8:33 left by taking Niederreiter’s pass and sweeping it home from a sharp angle along the goal line to Jake Allen’s left. Niederreiter had just relentlessly won a board battle behind the net.
Fontaine also assisted on Niederreiter’s tying goal in the second and had a good response from being scratched Monday against Detroit.
Good timing for Haula and Fontaine because somebody’s going to have to come out of the lineup IF Parise is able to return against the Lightning.
Frankly, if Parise returns, the Niederreiter-Haula-Fontaine line probably will have to be broken up because Thomas Vanek will have to end up somewhere, maybe back on the Koivu line with Jason Zucker. That could mean Charlie Coyle's back in the Fontaine spot.
So, the likely scratch (IF Parise returns) would be Fontaine, Ryan Carter or Chris Porter, who got his chin sliced open and a tooth sheered in half early in the game tonight from an errant Kevin Shattenkirk stick. That somehow went unseen by the officials. Porter opened up like a can of tomato sauce and received eight stitches during the first intermission.
To add insult to injury, after a scoreless and even first period, the Blues got the game’s first power play when Fontaine was called for high-sticking in the offensive zone. Porter just had his arms up like, “And you’re calling that????”
While killing that penalty, defenseman Marco Scandella sailed a puck into the crowd for a delay-of-game penalty.
That gave the Blues a 41-second 5-on-3. Dubnyk made three saves, but after the power play expired, the red-hot Shattenkirk scored from atop the left circle 8:42 into the second. Shattenkirk now has 23 points in the past 24 games.
The Wild responded to the goal well, buzzed the Blues’ net and drew a power play. The Wild didn’t score, but it regained momentum and finally joined the party in the second period.
Niederreiter was outstanding tonight. Besides the goal to tie the score after Shattenkirk’s power-play goal, he was physical (he clobbered 6-5 Colton Parayko in the second period), was strong along the walls and meshed well with Haula.
“I felt it was important to get out there and make sure we end the year right,” Niederreiter said. “2015 was a solid year and I just wanted to make sure it ended on a good note.”
On Haula’s play, Niederreiter said, “He played great. He was skating. That’s exactly his game. If he’s skating, then he’s a good player. That’s what he has to focus on.”
Just a simple road game by the Wild, something Dubnyk said the day before that the Wild needed to get back to. Remember, this was a team that went 15-1-1 with 23 goals against on the road from Jan. 27-April 9 last year.
“It’s always nice when you’ve got a road trip like this and you’ve got the first one. Not an easy task coming in here, so it was a good win,” Yeo said.
The Wild really took over at times in the third period and it really started with a solid shift by the Zucker-Koivu-Coyle line, which combined for eight shots.
“The game’s on the line at that moment and you want to make a statement, you want to make a push, and I thought Mikko’s line did that at that moment,” Yeo said. “It really got us a lot of momentum,” because the Blues were hemmed in their zone for what felt like an eternity. It frustrated the fans and seemed to begin a pattern of the Wild spending shifts in the offensive zone.
Dubnyk was awesome, but so were all six of the Wild defensemen tonight.
“It was just a good game for us, a good, solid game,” defenseman Ryan Suter said.
That’s it for me. 6 a.m. flight to Tampa via Atlanta, so I better get out of here.
Happy New Year everybody! Be safe.