If Devan Dubnyk played all of last season like he has all of this season and the Wild played as tight as it did in the third period during the month of January and first part of February, Mike Yeo may still be coaching the Wild.
At least in my cynical mind, that’s what Yeo HAD to be thinking from the St. Louis Blues’ bench as the Wild pulled out a 3-1 win over the Blues for its fourth win in a row overall and fourth win in a row at home.
Sure it takes some funny NHL math to feel this way, but the Wild’s officially on a roll right now with points in nine of 10 games (6-1-3) to move within two points of the Blues for second in the Central with a couple games in hand.
The homestand ends Tuesday against America’s team, the Florida Panthers.
The Wild improved to 9-3 at home and is 8-4-3 when scoring the first goal, something provided tonight by Matt Dumba, his second goal in two games. Nino Niederreiter also scored for the Wild to make it 2-0, his eighth goal of the season (second behind Charlie Coyle) and eighth point in nine games. Niederreiter said he wasn’t happy with his lack of shooting opportunities the past few games (he had no shots against Edmonton), so he decided to just whip this attempt on net through traffic.
Good idea. Mikael Granlund added an empty-net goal with Nate Prosser, who continues to play great and allow Christian Folin not to have to prematurely come back from a knee injury (I thought Prosser’s partner, Marco Scandella, was also solid tonight), and Eric Staal got the helpers. For Staal, it was his 800th point to become the 13th active player to reach that mark.
Devan Dubnyk, which his parents Barb and Barry at the game, made 11 of his 22 saves in the first period to improve to 6-0-2 in his past eight starts with a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. He has allowed 16 even-strength goals in his past 18 starts and leads the NHL with a 1.63 GAA, .946 SV% and four shutouts.
He was especially good in the first period when the Wild just had trouble getting over the red line to sustain much of anything. Kurtis Gabriel tried to spark the team with a fight against heavyweight Ryan Reaves, and in Dumba’s mind, “It started with Gabes getting that fight and I think the boys were just rolling after that.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock felt his team got discouraged after the Dumba and Niederreiter goals, and then the Wild was the better team the rest of the way. Before Hitchcock pulled Jake Allen in the third for an extra attacker, the Wild had allowed only four shots in the period to that point.
Coach Bruce Boudreau felt it was the best third period the Wild has played this season because of how little it gave up.
The Wild’s penalty kill went 3 for 3, huge because there were a couple really bad calls, especially a goalie interference penalty on Staal. The Wild’s PK had been killing off a lousy 76 percent of opposing power plays the past 16 games and the Blues had the league’s seventh-best power play, second-best on the road.
Boudreau and Prosser credited assistant coach Scott Stevens with a great pre-scout with guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri on fire right now.
“They were trying some new stuff and we stayed above,” Boudreau said. “When I say stayed above, on the defensive side of the puck, especially when Tarasenko gets it, because we don't want him to carry the puck between the blue lines because he's so dynamic, he ends up drawing three or four guys do him. So by preventing him from carrying the puck, and they were looking for him, it sort of made things a little bit easier for us.”
On the penalty, Allen was four or five feet out of the crease trying to cut off Jason Pominville’s angle when Staal ran over him. Staal wasn’t even looking because that ice was completely his and he had nowhere to go, but rookie ref Jake Brenk thought otherwise.
“If you can tell by my reaction, I wasn’t very happy,” Staal said. “It’s a quick play, but he’s way out of his net. I’m not looking at him, I’m looking at the play, and [Alex] Pietrangelo’s kinda holding me. Ref’s discretion.”
I asked Dubnyk if he would have expected that call as a goalie. He claims no.
“I don’t want to say too much. The refs are working hard out there,” Dubnyk said. “I think [Brenk] would probably agree if he watched the play again. If a goalie chooses to go for a skate and be at the bottom of the circle, the players have to skate somewhere. If he kills him and blows him up, that’s a different story because that’s a penalty anyway. I don’t think that was the case. That was a frustrating play, but stuff happens fast out there, too. For the referee it might have looked like he was just on the top of his crease, and he doesn’t get the benefit of replay. Fortunately, we were able to kill it off.”
Brenk, a Detroit Lakes native by the way and former Minnesota State Mankato forward, was also in the middle of another controversial play when the Wild thought it made it 3-1 on a Mikko Koivu goal. But Brenk blew it dead before the puck crossed the goal line, making it unreviewable. Boudreau was angry, but I think video review would have gotten rid of the goal anyway because I think it’s clear the puck is covered and Koivu pushes Allen’s left pad with his stick, and that pushed Allen back and thus the puck over the goal line.
That is not permissible in any fashion.
Some more quotes:
Dubnyk on the team getting on a roll: “It’s awesome. That’s important to just get that feeling, get that good feeling going. When you can approach every game and feel good about what the outcome’s going to be and how we’re going to play, that’s how you get on these streaks. These streaks are important when the schedule gets tough at the end of the year.”
Staal on his 800th point: “It’s a nice feeling. Honestly, I’m hoping for a lot more as my career moves on. But nonetheless, very grateful and honored to one, make the NHL and to play as long as I have and to put up that kind of number is special. There is no way to do it on your own. I’ve played with some great offensive guys that made me look good on a lot of nights. But like I said, hopefully, there is a lot more ahead because I’d like a bigger number than that.”
Staal on getting on a roll: “I just think we’re getting more confident and comfortable in the style that we can play and the way Bruce has set up our system to play. I think the guys are confident and now comfortable, it’s always good when you see results because it instills in what you’re doing every day. Hopefully we keep this roll going because it’s huge to bank up points at home. Good effort by us tonight and look forward to the next one.”
Boudreau on Staal: “It's really impressive to me. It puts everything into perspective on how good Gretzky was in that era. You know, 800 points is tough to do. Hopefully he'll get his 1000th game this year. That's a great milestone. He's been a great leader, a great captain. Now he's doing a great job for us.”
(On an aside, proving Negative Dave’s tweet that I need to get a life, out of curiosity this morning, I looked up when Staal’s due to play his 1,000th game because I was hoping it would align with the road game in Carolina in Raleigh in March. It actually is slated to come two games later in Winnipeg.)
On piling up points, Boudreau said, “You have to bank points. I know it's a long ways away but 20 games in 31 days is coming at some point. You look at Winnipeg is going through a stretch now. Calgary just came through a stretch where they've played 30 games already. Every team is going to do it. You have to bank the points. Injuries happen. You get tired. And things don't always go as we would like them to.”
That’s it for me.
Please come join us for the Russo-Souhan Show at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis on Monday night at 6.
Also, I’ll be live in KFAN’s studio with Paul Allen at 9 a.m. Tuesday and I’m filling in for Paul on KFAN from 9-noon Wednesday, so that’ll be a hockey heavy show before my flight to Nashville.
Ironically, I’m doing this big officiating story for Tuesday’s paper that I think you’ll find interesting. It’s funny Brenk was doing this game because he’s a part of this story. He’s one of 13 refs and linesmen that essentially get called up from the AHL to call NHL games throughout the season. I’ll explain more in what I think is an interesting article.
Talk to you after Monday’s practice.