OTTAWA – From blown leads to swift collapses, there was plenty to cringe about during the 0-4 eyesore that was the Wild’s franchise-worst start to the season.
And the team’s first victory wasn’t much prettier.
“At this stage, we don’t care,” winger Zach Parise said. “To get into that win column for us was the ultimate goal today. No matter how it happened, one way or another, we had to get there.”
The Wild might not have earned any style points for rousing out of a sleepy afternoon stalemate with the Senators for a 2-0 win in front of 11,500 at Canadian Tire Centre on Canadian Thanksgiving, but the team did discover a strategy that worked: Getting back to its defensive roots.
“Those are the kind of games we’re going to have to win,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Like 6-5 is probably not in our repertoire. But 2-1, 3-1, if we can do that a lot, you’ll be a successful team.”
Two players who were idle for most of the Wild’s stagnant debut were catalysts for the turnaround, with backup Alex Stalock delivering a 26-save shutout in his first start and center Victor Rask, a healthy scratch for the first three games, scoring the decisive goal.
“That’s what coaches like,” Boudreau said. “We know the stars do their stuff. It’s when the guys that don’t get much of the limelight do well, you feel really good for them.”
What also helped was finding a solution for the Wild’s tendency to fade after giving up a goal: Don’t fall behind in the first place.
After surrendering multiple goals in quick succession in each of its four losses, the Wild (1-4) settled in for a mellow back-and-forth with the Senators that wasn’t the most entertaining brand of hockey but a fruitful one.
The most dynamic play of the first period was Stalock skating to the Wild blue line to play the puck, dumping it into the Wild bench instead of over the glass to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.
“I was on the ice,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “I told him, I was like, ‘I’m not that slow. I could have gotten it.’ He made a great play, a veteran play, putting it in the bench and slowing it down.”
Although the first two periods were scoreless, the Wild did have chances to capitalize.
Winger Luke Kunin had a breakaway stopped by Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, and winger Jason Zucker had another that was obstructed by defenseman Thomas Chabot.
That resulted in one of six Wild power plays, but the Wild blanked on each opportunity. The Senators were also unsuccessful, going 0-for-5.
“It was like a close-but-no-cigar type thing,” Boudreau said.
With both teams struggling — the Senators fell to 1-4 with this result — Boudreau figured whoever struck first would bubble-wrap that lead to safety. And that’s exactly what happened after Rask wired a puck over Anderson 9:23 into the third. Anderson totaled 33 saves.
“It’s obviously nice for the confidence,” Rask said. “But most importantly, we got two points here and that’s what we came for.”
This was the third time the Wild was ahead this season, and instead of crumbling the team remained in control. Parise added an empty-net goal with 2:19 to go, nudging the puck up ice before tumbling into the post.
“That’s kind of fitting [for] how this team plays, crashing into the net and going to the net with the puck,” Stalock said. “It’s a good sign. It’s a good team win.”