They strode into Xcel Energy Center with a 7-1-1 record, the NHL’s best power play and speed to burn. The Edmonton Oilers seemingly had every trait the Wild would want – youth, star power and a hot start that will excite a fan base.
So, of course the team that entered the game with a 2-6 record, a starting goalie with a 4.18 goals-against average and flaws that fostered a skeptical public would skate away with a dominant, 3-0 victory.
Hey, that’s hockey, where the first team to three goals usually wins, and the Wild got to those three in a hurry Tuesday night. In front of 17,189 at Xcel – the second consecutive non-sellout after 251 games in a row of announced full crowds – the Wild used a mix of veteran savvy, youthful energy and perseverance to blank the Oilers.
The savvy came from Eric Staal, who backhanded a pair of shots past Oilers goalie Mike Smith for his first two goals the season during a 1:15 span in the first period. Staal, who’ll turn 35 on Oct. 29, also assisted on Brad Hunt’s power-play goal that made it 3-0 at 16:46 of the first.
“You could see the elevation in his game,’’ coach Bruce Boudreau said. “… It was a matter of time.’’
The youthful energy came in the first period from Jordan Greenway, the 6-6, 225-pound 22-year-old who has five assists in his past five games after setting up both goals by Staal. Greenway was in “beast mode,’’ according to Boudreau, and his strong work with the puck was especially evident on Staal’s second goal, when he fended off Riley Sheahan with one arm while driving around the net and dishing a pass to defenseman Carson Soucy, who fed Staal. Greenway, however, was blasted on a check by Josh Archibald. His lip was bleeding, and he left the game to be evaluated for a concussion. Boudreau said Greenway likely would accompany the team for Thursday’s game at Nashville.
“He looked determined and like a guy who wanted to be a difference-maker today,’’ Staal said of Greenway.
And the perseverance came from goalie Alex Stalock, who was thrust into the game when starter Devan Dubnyk was injured in the second period. Stalock entered to a shorthanded situation but quickly snuffed out an Oilers chance and finished with 16 saves to preserve the team shutout.
“It’s a tough place to put the goalie in when the power play is going 38 percent against you,’’ Boudreau said. “… Al made a big save, and that got him into the game right away.’’
First for a night and now for two in a row, the Wild’s formula for winning has come together. Will it last? We’ll see, but the team’s coach came away with some spring in his step, something that hasn’t happened often in this young season.
“That was,’’ Boudreau said, “our most complete game this year.’’