One of the wisest decisions John Torchetti has made as Wild coach is not breaking up the Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville line when Jason Zucker sustained a concussion in the outdoor game against Chicago.
It would have been a natural decision by any coach to take Niederreiter or Pominville and have either assume Zucker’s spot on the skilled line with Thomas Vanek and Mikael Granlund.
But Torchetti has liked what he has seen from the alleged third line since he put them together Feb. 15 in Vancouver and, as you know by now, Torchetti is big into matchups and he likes this line as a shutdown line against opposing top lines, especially at home when he can dictate the matchup with last change.
“I just think that they want to play on both sides of the puck. The whole team can learn from that,” coach John Torchetti said in a telling quote.
A lot of that has to do with Haula’s speed and the fact he can toss him out there against a Nathan MacKinnon like tonight and have full trust he has got a center that can keep up and shadow.
As Niederreiter said after the game, top players normally don’t love playing defense, so if that line can defend and be on the defensive side of the puck and check, it usually will lead to offense.
Tonight, it certainly did in a 6-3 win over the Avs. As you can read more of in the gamer, the Wild won for consecutive times at home for the first time since Dec. 15-17 and moved back into the top-8 for the first time since Jan. 25.
In the first period, each member of the Haula line scored a goal. I don’t think I’ve ever covered a game where each forward on one line scored in the same period, but the Wild rallied from a quick 1-0 deficit provided by who else but Wild killer Jarome Iginla with its first three-goal opening period since Oct. 30.
In the second, rough. Again, a trend of poor seconds maybe because of the long change. Torchetti said the Wild got caught on too many that period, and on one shift Nate Prosser played 3:04 and Jarret Stoll and Marco Scandella 2:37 each (it followed a frantic penalty kill).
But the momentum turned in the period when Haula, not knowing you’re not allowed to throw your stick to a teammate who has lost or broken his, threw his stick like a quarterback to Matt Dumba. Not only did the ref’s arm go up, Dumba didn’t catch the stick, so suddenly the Wild’s running around its end with two players not having a stick.
The Avs made it 3-2. The Wild was fully on its heels from there and ultimately Cody McLeod tied it.
But early in the third, Mikko Koivu forced a turnover and Zach Parise flew by a defenseman and made a similar long goalmouth pass to Charlie Coyle like he did during Sunday’s matinee against Florida. Coyle buried it for the go-ahead goal, his 20th. He later added an empty-net goal for his 21st and 11th in the past 18 games.
Niederreiter also scored an empty-net goal and finished with two goals, one assist and a +3. Pominville was outstanding yet again. He has five goals in the past eight games and finished with a goal and assist and was +3. Haula was +3 and scored yet another breakaway goal.
Haula has five goals and seven assists in the past 12 games after four goals and seven assists his first 46 games.
Marco Scandella was also +4.
Dubnyk had a rough start to the game but made some good saves late. In 11 starts since the All-Star break, Dubnyk is 5-6 and has allowed three or more goals eight times. In the six games before the All-Star break, he was 1-4-1 but allowed less than three goals in five of those games.
On the second period: “We dipped a little. It was a great start obviously. That first was huge. We dipped a little in the second, so we came in, we knew we had more, we knew we weren’t going to win that way. We picked it up and everyone kind of pulled the rope a little more. And we got the result because of it.”
On the run he’s on: “I was just trying to get open and enough can’t be said about Zach and Mikko and just me being at the end of it. I mean, I get the goal. But those guys do the work, they make the plays. That’s the easy part. … It’s a team effort. It’s not just me. There’s a few great plays like I said by Zach, Mikko, Suts out there and other guys. I just happen to be on the end of it more times than not. You’ve got to give it to the teammates for that. They do the hard work and you’re at the end of it.”
On being in the top-8: “It’s a good sign. It feels good. I think it’s going to give us some confidence and a little breath of fresh air for now, but we’ve got to come ready to play. There’s still a season left and however many games and we’ve got to come ready to play like we did here and play a full 60 every night and we can’t think we’re just going to stay here just because we’re here now. We’ve got to keep pushing ourselves for the best position in the playoffs.”
On his line: “We talked before the game that winning that matchup’s going to be huge and trying to keep them off the board and checking them all and eventually we’ll get chances. And I guess no better way to start it than getting three on them and getting them real frustrated right away.
“When you build that chemistry and start scoring, you can start picking on little things. We read off each other pretty well right now and the dynamics are there for our line. We all understand what we have to do night in and night out with the matchups. We know we’re going to get [chances] eventually if we keep playing the right way. It’s been great with our line right now.”
“I thought we played a good game. Peaks and valleys are always going to happen during the game. We can't worry about when it happens. It's just moving onto the next play. We started down one early, and made our adjustments, and then it was 3-1. We got caught on some long changes in the second that really gave them the opportunity to get back in the game. We have to be a little more detailed — second period is always the longer change — so we have to be a little more detailed there, and get better at it. Then in third we had better changes, caught them on one, and got the game back under control.”
On being in the top-8 after being five points back when he took over (Wild’s 6-3 under him): “I'm happy for the guys. They've worked their butts off for it. We got a long way to go still. It's just game-by-game, we're on to Toronto, and we'll get focused on them. We'll get better, learn from what we did, film-wise, tonight, and get a little more detailed going into the next game.”
On if it feels like an accomplishment to have evened up with Colorado: “The guys want this, and that's what it's all about moving forward: the players. Everything is right; you're in control of what your own destiny is. We can't be scoreboard watching, we have to just be detailed, and refining our game, and keep working hard, and competing. Our battle-level is pretty good, but we want it great.”
On Haula: “He's skating. It's something to watch a guy skate and compete, and that's what he does. He never gives up on the play, and he's always working to try to create a turnover, and moving his feet. His speed really shows when that happens.”
“We knew this game was going to be important. I thought we responded well after kind of a tough start with giving one shorthanded. But overall I thought a really good game by us.”
“We used our speed well. We jumped on pucks and made some good plays, two good plays, and then we just hopped on the ice for the other one. I think it was (Dumba) who hit Haulzy for a breakaway. Those were all nice plays that we made and we found a way to put them in the back of the net. It’s nice to get rewarded for sure.”
On Nino’s first goal: “It started in our end. Someone flipped the puck out and I just charged my D It was kind of a wobbly puck and I was able to get a stick on it and chip it out. Then we were on the run for a 2-on-1. Nino was really patient there and he made a nice move that was able to open up a little room low blocker and he picked a corner.”
On his run of late: “I kind of put myself behind the eight ball early. Tough start. I’ve never really had to deal with something as bad as that in my career so I just wanted to rebound in a good way. Fresh start with a new coach and he’s showing a lot of confidence in our line, playing us against top lines so we’ve got to defend and giving us a lot of liberty to make plays in the O zone. We’re just finding ways to score more goals.”
“It’s crazy, it’s awesome because as we’ve started to try and turn things around, we’ve all said ‘Somehow, right now, we’re in a pretty good spot.’ We’re in a spot where if we win our games, we’re gonna be there. It certainly didn’t feel that way with the stretch we went on. We’ve got 18 games now to control our own destiny and that’s a spot we’re happy to be in.”
On what the 8-seed means:
“It’s all that matters. You see how the playoffs work and if we’re playing well going into playoffs, it doesn’t matter what the matchup is, it’s going to be difficult. We put ourselves in this position. We were taking some big steps as a group through the first half of the year and were in a good spot. Unfortunately we slipped. All that matters is getting in.”
“It was fun. I feel like we came out strong and we knew as a line, we talked right off the get-go that we’d be playing against MacKinnon and Landeskog all night so we had to make sure we play smart defensively.”
Making amends for his early penalty? “I was frustrated that we started like that. No exactly (sure) what happened on that play but glad we won the game at the end.”
On the game: “We know their weakness is definitely defensively and that’s what we have to take advantage of. In the second period we tried to be a little bit too cute and it backfired on us. In the third period we did exactly what we did in the first period and that’s why we won the game.
On his line: I feel like we talk a lot on the bench to support each other and try to get better as a line. Tonight we talked beforehand of what we had to do, our gameplan, and we stuck with it the whole game.”
That’s it for me. I have an early flight to Toronto. My editor, Chris Miller, is covering practice. Follow him on Twitter for updates at @cmillstrib.
Remember, Wednesday, the preliminary rosters for the World Cup of Hockey teams will be announced. Team Finland should be out by the time you awake. The U.S. comes real late.