Good win for the Wild tonight in L.A. Of course, every win’s a good win for the Wild right now.
For the third time in 11 games this month, the Wild walked out of an arena feeling good about itself after beating the Los Angeles Kings, 3-zip. The Kings had won nine of 12 games and are on top of the Pacific Division.
But the Wild scored on the power play (Zach Parise), even-strength (Charlie Coyle) and shorthanded (Erik Haula) and Darcy Kuemper made 32 saves for his seventh career shutout as the Wild snapped a five-game losing streak.
Kuemper was so good, coach Mike Yeo said there’s a “very good chance” he starts in San Jose during Saturday’s road-trip closing matinee against the Sharks. Kuemper won in San Jose last month and has played well in L.A. throughout his career.
Asked why he’s so good in Cali, Kuemper joked, “Maybe it’s the California girls.”
Kuemper is 5-1-2 since Dec. 5 with a league-best 1.20 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and two shutouts.
Lots of story lines tonight, but the first was Yeo going back to the original power-play units after several games of tinkering with them and really overhauling them Wednesday in Anaheim.
The players swear they didn’t go to the coaches with this, but Ryan Suter said the guys on the No. 1 unit – Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and Suter – were “excited” when they found out.
After a scoreless first, Parise snapped the Wild’s 0 for 25 drought dating to Dec. 28 (11 games without a power-play goal was a franchise record) with a power-play goal. Vanek made a nice pass, Pominville took a hit to make a play. It was the Wild’s first power-play goal on the road in 31 tries since Nov. 17. That spanned 13 games, which tied a team record.
“Some of the best power plays we’ve had this year has been with that group,” Parise said. “Lately, it’s been a lot of switching, [and that’s caused] not a lot of familiarity with each other and with what we’re trying to do on the power play, so it’s just made it tough not knowing outs, not knowing routes on entries. With this group, we’ve had some good power plays. Hopefully we can keep having good ones. Maybe we’ll stick together.”
Parise quipped that the last few games with the new units, “I don’t think we’ve had a setup,” so the coaches “wanted to try something different again, and tonight it worked.”
Yeo said, “We struggled for a little while there and next thing you know all we’ve been doing is bouncing around and trying different units probably too much, so we decided to go back to that group. That group at Christmas time and in December was in the top-10 in the league. It’s had success before, so we went back with the group that’d had success. It was a huge goal.”
Added Suter, who turned 31 today, “To finally get our power play going, … it was a relief just because it’s been all the talk. You guys have made it such a big deal and for us to get one with the original group there was big. We have to continue to build.”
Kuemper said, “We get that early power-play goal, it was nice to see them rewarded. It was kind of a breath of fresh air for everyone and a bit of relief. You could see us get to our game after that.”
Parise said it was a “relief to get the power-play goal, relief to win, relief to play a good game.
“We really needed it for our own psyche. It’s been getting tough for us lately just losing a lot of games and not producing on offense, it’s been really tough and frustrating. The frustration was creeping in. Hopefully we can turn the page on all that and play more games like tonight.”
Yeo said he was proud for the guys and relieved for them.
“The work ethic has been there,” he said. “I’m not going to sit around and say we’ve been playing great and just been unfairly rewarded, but I liked our focus and [the fact we] continued to stay with it despite the way things have gone and then finding a way to be a little bit better.”
Yeo loved the Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. Koivu won 15 of 19 draws, had three shots and was plus-2. He assisted on Haula’s shorthanded goal off a 2-on-1 with Suter. Coyle scored a breakaway goal, had four shots and two hits.
Coyle was stopped by Jonathan Quick earlier in the second period on a breakaway, but on this one with 13.6 seconds left in the second, he came in from the left side and whipped a shot over the birthday boy’s glove.
Darryl Sutter challenged offside, but after a review, it was oh-so close but linesmen Don Henderson and Shane Heyer ruled good goal. Tough call. The cameras aren’t on the blue line and I think it was impossible to say for sure if it was offside even though the fans definitely thought otherwise. Huge goal at the time to make it 2-0.
“I think Scandy put some backspin on that when he flipped it,” Coyle said, laughing. “It was close. Glad we got the call.”
The Wild also got some great shifts from the fourth line of Chris Porter-Haula-Jordan Schroeder.
They brought energy, a lot of shifts in the offensive zone and scoring chances. Haula’s shortie was the third of his career and second of his season.
“He’s playing very well,” Yeo said. “I’d like to see him continue to play at this level. He’s getting involved offensively. He’s always got a good defensive game. There’s a good base there. He’s a guy that I definitely trust and can put up on the ice really against anybody, but the compete, I think it’s evident in his faceoffs (won 8 of 12 tonight), I think it’s evident how he’s getting involved in the offensive zone as well.”
Haula said before that third-period kill, everybody on the bench was howling to get the kill, so he said it was crucial.
Yeo also said, “Our leaders did a great job tonight. You look at the play of Suts and Mikko and Zach, and not to single those guys out alone, but that’s what you need when things are like this.”
Said Koivu, “We recognized the situation and we knew the type of opponent we were facing, how good a team they were, how good they were playing recently. We were ready to go.”
Onto San Jose. In Saturday’s paper, a real fun Brent Burns feature after my phone interview with him Wednesday. Good stuff.