There’s really no way to portray how big this one 3-0 victory in Columbus was tonight.
The Wild had lost three in a row and four of five. It had sunk to 7th in the West with red-hot Phoenix surging from outside the top-8 and Detroit right on its tail. It’s about to head home for a three-game homestand in front of what’s bound to be a restless, nervous home crowd anyway, a crowd that felt compelled to boo this team profusely last Monday despite having won eight of its previous nine. Can you imagine what it would have been like if it had lost tonight?
So the Wild needed to stop the bleeding in Columbus and lower the temperature a bit before Tuesday’s game against Chicago.
Mission accomplished as it played a strong all-around game, got great special teams (two power-play goals, four spotless penalty kills), got a goal and assist from Jason Pominville in his second game, a winning goal from Ryan Suter, a first career power-play goal by Charlie Coyle, solid effort from scores of players and a 24-save shutout response from Niklas Backstrom.
It’s now got a 6-point cushion on Phoenix and moved back to 6th in the West.
Evening from Nationwide Arena, where the Wild snapped the Blue Jackets’ 12-game home point streak tonight.
The Wild will not practice Monday as one of its four mandatory days off per month in the new CBA. I will host a live chat on at 2 p.m.
As I began to indicate the past few days, I finally got it confirmed tonight that Heatley will undergo shoulder surgery Tuesday at the Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday. That’s why the itinerary changed and he flew here to Ohio.
It’s a scope to repair a dislocated left shoulder suffered in San Jose during that altercation with former teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic on Wednesday. Mike Yeo says this doesn’t necessarily mean Heatley will miss the remainder of the regular season, but you know it’ll be pretty darn close. The reason he and the team has elected for surgery is because this should quicken his return rather than just letting it heal naturally.
The good news is now the trade for Pominville is even bigger. Pominville took Coyle spot as the first-line right wing and tonight, Yeo might have discovered Heatley’s replacement with Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak.
Not only did Coyle score and play outstandingly in all three zones, Clutterbuck and Brodziak were as good as they’ve been in a long time. They were hard to play against for Marian Gaborik’s line, they were pains in the rear with good sticks in the neutral zone and they got the puck in often on the forecheck. All three were also strong on the penalty kill. Clutterbuck caused turnovers and foiled chances all night with back pressure and a good stick.
“We’re losing a huge piece there [with Heatley], so you need guys to step up,” Yeo said. “What Heater brings is a guy who is puck strong and a guy who can score goals. And I think we saw a lot of those qualities in Charlie Coyle tonight.”
The hope is Matt Cullen is close. He missed the road trip with a lower body injury.
As a team, Clutterbuck, who had a money quote in the gamer you should check out, said, “We just needed to get back to the certain way we were playing, and the good thing is we know exactly what that is and we know that it works.”
Yeo was delighted with Backstrom’s response after being yanked in L.A. He recorded his 28th career shutout and now leads the league with 20 wins in 31 starts. He had 19 in 45 starts last year.
As a team, Yeo said, “What you saw tonight is what our game is supposed to look like.”
He did say, “We’re not going to sit here and say this road trip was a huge success, but we found a way to in a very important game for us.”
On the back end, he scratched Brett Clark and veteran Tom Gilbert: “I thought the entire defensive group was really strong. One of our better ones execution wise. Taking hits to make plays.”
Clayton Stoner, so maligned lately, had a real solid game. Yeo: “He’s had a couple tough plays with pucks for sure. The base of his game, he’s going to be a physical guy, he’s going to be hard to play against down low, he’s not a fun guy to play against, I guarantee you that because positionally he does a good job. He did a very good job with the puck tonight, which is important.”
Tonight, Yeo said, “Scorers were scoring, checkers were checking.”
Mikael Granlund had one of his best games of his season. First period, Yeo said he was somewhat average, but he was great in all three zones in the second and third, set up a tremendous Coyle goal and was physical and strong on the wall.
Said Yeo: “I thought he elevated his game in the second and third. That’s really important for us. It’s a matter of confidence for the kid. Once he really starts to figure out what he can do and what he’s capable of, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Pominville had a solid game. Thirty minutes before warmups, his wife and two kids surprised him by driving in from Buffalo. The Wild surprised the family by outfitting them fully with Wild gear.
Coyle was real good. Suter real good. Torrey Mitchell had a great game. The fourth line really set a strong tone in the first, but Backstrom made a series of clutch saves that calmed the tide too.
That’s it for me. Early flight. Ten games left, amazingly enough. Again, no practice Monday but I will be hosting the live chat on at 2 p.m. Please join in.