The Wild’s trying to take steps toward rediscovering that effective game we saw in October and the first part of November, the type of play that helped it at one point build a 7-1 home record before the rug started to be pulled from under its season.
For about 35 minutes tonight, fans at Xcel Energy Center saw lots of reminders of what that game looked like.
Playing against a down-and-out Arizona team that is about to begin a major rebuild, the Coyotes are still a hard-working, well-coached team, so there was no way this game was going to be as easy as the Wild’s game at Buffalo a few nights earlier.
The Wild played a strong puck possession game in the first half, looked fast and constantly spent time in Arizona’s zone and probably should have had a three- or four-goal lead if not for the netminding of Mike Smith. It built a 2-0 lead though en route to a 3-1 win.
It wasn't an easy one though. The game's complexion changed when Mikko Koivu made one of those mistakes you typically make when you're tired. Koivu, who had a solid game with the exception of this one shift, was late in his shift, so he was slow to make a decision as to whether to chip a puck out or force an exit pass while his linemates went to the bench. He was pickpocketed, took a penalty and the Wild’s 2-0 lead became 2-1 on the penalty kill.
From there though, the Coyotes pushed hard and Devan Dubnyk, facing his old team from only three days earlier, had to be good. He was, as Dave Tippett called him to me a few hours earlier, “very settling.” He made big saves, froze pucks, alleviated pressure on forechecks by coming out and playing pucks for his D.
He showed his size a few times by making outstretched pad saves that looked like they would be sure goals. He stopped all 11 pucks he saw in the third and 25 in all for his second straight win in a Wild sweater and the Wild’s first two-game winning streak since Nov. 16-20.
“He’s made some huge saves,” said Jason Zucker, who scored the winning goal on a second-period brief breakaway that was created by his speed, a nifty chip pass by Justin Fontaine and Dubnyk bypassing a few Coyotes with a clear. “There were definitely a few we thought would go in and somehow he kept them out.”
Dubnyk’s assist on the Zucker goal was the second of his career and the Wild’s first since Niklas Backstrom on Dec. 2, 2011. He is the sixth Wild goalie in history to record an assist. Regardless of the assist, Dubnyk’s puck-handling has been noticeable and a huge plus. He just negates forechecks coming out to play pucks and deeps the defensemen, that you know get hurt often, from getting smashed. Ryan Suter talks about that in my game notebook, which is on the statribune.com/wild page and paper Sunday.
I wrote most my gamer on Dubnyk and how the Wild was able to magically turn his Coyotes mask into a Wild-looking mask so quickly. So check that out if you wonder. He’s also wearing his Coyotes pants only with Wild green on top of his breezers. The pads were also the same Coyotes pads, but the Wild has leather swatches in Wild colors. Assistant equipment manager Rick Bronwell cuts traces of the pattern in the pad and the leather pieces just stick on.
Dubnyk had a bunch of cool stuff to say after the game and you can read that in the gamer.
“It was weird [playing my old team],” he said. “It was more weird being around the hotel and seeing them around there and walking over to the rink and stuff. I had the opportunity to play against Edmonton for the first time this year. I just tried to draw off of that experience and different things I do to just try to make the picture small and not worry too much about the situation and just concentrate on the game.”
Charlie Coyle looked like the Coyle fans want to see. Scored a goal, wiggled down the boards brushing off checks to set up one chance, got into a major-league battle with Michael Stone. Played angry, and coach Mike Yeo sat down with him a few days ago to let me know he wants more.
I loved Jonas Brodin’s game. Obviously was on for the one goal though. Jared Spurgeon was great for a second straight game. I liked Jason Pominville’s game early and how impressive was Marco Scandella?
Doesn’t practice after missing five games and comes in to play 24:48 and be plus-3. He just adds a different dimension.
“I was ready mentally,” Scandella said. “You just got to convince yourself you’re ok. I didn’t practice as much as I liked to, but I felt great.”
On the Coyotes’ push, Dubnyk said, “That’s a great group of guys that work hard over there and at some point they’re going to make a push and they did in the third. It’s how you handle those pushes and we did an incredible job. Lots of stuff from the outside and it’s my job to handle those.”
After the one goal, Antoine Vermette, his old teammate, said something to him. Asked what, Dubnyk, laughing, said, “He wanted me to give him a couple more. I said, ‘Sorry I can’t, maybe another time, not right now.’”
Yeo said the first half of the game was “fantastic, and then it seemed like we were getting a little bit frustrated that we weren’t extending our lead and we started to get away a little bit, which really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So there’s some good teaching points in that game.
“Things we were doing early in the game that were leading to chances and that were making it so difficult and frustrating for them we started to get away from. We have to make sure on top of it the full 60 the next game for sure.”
Yeo felt the Wild defended well late and didn’t scramble the way it would have in recent games, but he felt players weren’t completely as composed as they needed to be in the third.
But a few weeks ago, the Wild probably would have lost this game. It won this won and maybe it’s starting to take steps in the right direction. We’ll see if the Wild can build on this in home-road back-to-backs Monday and Tuesday against Columbus and Detroit.
That’s it for me. Check out my Sunday Insider in the paper and startribune.com/wild on tanking, too. Rachel Blount is covering Sunday’s practice and Monday’s game, although I’ll come to the game and tweet away before my Tuesday morning flight to Detroit.
I'll also be on Rosen's Sports Sunday on CCO-TV on Sunday night.
I'll also be doing a live chat on startribune.com/wild at 1 p.m. CT Tuesday from Detroit.