The Wild earned its NHL-best sixth shutout of the season tonight and third in the past five games with a 2-0 win against the San Jose Sharks.
Darcy Kuemper made 25 saves for his sixth career shutout and first since Oct. 23, 2014, Zach Parise scored the winning goal early in the third period and assisted on Mikko Koivu’s empty-netter as the Wild brushed off consecutive overtime losses to extend its point streak to seven games (4-0-3).
The Wild has gotten back to its bread and butter, allowing five goals in the past six games and THREE goals in the past EIGHTEEN regulation periods over six games.
Mike Yeo cautioned his team this morning not to let its defensive game slip because of the frustration of six overtime losses and a sudden goal-scoring slump. The Wild played strong defensively, got a spark from three in-game line changes by Yeo and got a great goalie performance from Kuemper.
I mentioned this in the game story, but in case you miss it, there was a certain irony to Kuemper winning his second game of the season and first in a start Saturday.
Former Wild goalie prospect Matt Hackett was in the arena earlier in the day playing as a member of the AHL San Diego Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate, against the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ affiliate.
In 2013, the Wild was in this very same arena when it chose to keep Kuemper and trade Hackett in the Jason Pominville deadline deal.
Coincidentally, Hackett made his NHL debut for the Wild on Dec. 6, 2011, in San Jose when Josh Harding was injured 71 seconds into the game. Hackett stopped 34 of 34 that night, the last time the Wild won in San Jose before Saturday.
The Wild snapped an 0-4-1 drought in San Jose, won for a second time in 12 visits since March 5, 2009 and won for a third time in 17 visits since Oct. 21, 2006.
“Big two points. Made this road trip a pretty good trip for us, four out of six [points],” Kuemper said. “It was a gutsy effort by all the guys. It’s always tough, these back-to-back games playing a fresh team, but we mustered up all the energy we could and played hard all night.”
Kuemper entered tonight with a weird 1-0-4 record. He said with a laugh that when Parise made it 1-0, “I was like, ‘Well now I need to get the shutout for my own sanity.’”
In three starts and four games for the injured Devan Dubnyk, Kuemper is 2-0-2, stopped 70 of 74 shots for a .946 save percentage (only 2 regulation goals) and a 1.12 goals-against average.
“It’s nice to get some playing time,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good in practice and to get out there and feel good out there means a lot. The guys have been playing real hard in front of me and making my job as easy as it can be.
“I feel like I’m seeing the puck well. I feel like mentally I’m in a good focused state right now.”
The Wild has been outstanding defensively.
Koivu said the Wild’s just doing the things “we’re supposed to do. I think before that, that five-game stretch, we kind of got away from the defensive game that we’re supposed to play. Sometimes that happens and usually the results are not what you want. Everyone’s doing their job. It’s been working. But that’s the way it should be. We need to build there. That’s our identity. I believe the rest will come. We will score more goals as long as we stay patient.”
Yeo said, “I’m tired, so I can imagine what they feel like.”
Yeo said they overstretched their shifts in the second period but made a conscious effort to have short shifts in the third because it felt like as long as they had energy, they were in a good place.
“That disciplined paid off in the third,” Yeo said.
Yeo was very happy for Kuemper: “He’s played very well for us. He looked very confident in there, he looks poised in there.”
Added Parise, “He’s played some great games for us and not gotten rewarded, so again he played really well, made big saves. It’s nice to see for him mentally to get the win, to get the shutout, and get rewarded for how well he has been playing.”
After weathering some early Sharks pressure, the Wild gained momentum after Yeo juggled three lines, including the struggling Jason Zucker-Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line.
Yeo moved Charlie Coyle from center to right wing with Thomas Vanek and Koivu, Erik Haula centered Zucker and Niederreiter and Ryan Carter was moved from right wing to center between Chris Porter and Justin Fontaine.
The Vanek-Koivu-Coyle line threatened for much of the night, and the Wild controlled play the rest of the period and had the better of the chances.
Why the line changes? Yeo said, “Just a feeling. It’s just not a matter of tonight, it’s the way things have gone lately. I thought it brought some life to some guys. Mikko’s line, … they generated an awful lot of offensive zone time and some real good shifts in the offensive zone, so that was a good sign.”
Jared Spurgeon has been outstanding during this stretch of great defensive hockey. So good in his own zone and joining the attack like a madman. I’m going to probably write about him in the next couple days, particularly in contract situation and how important he is to this team.
Tonight, he blocked five shots, had an assist and was plus-2 after scoring the lone goal in Arizona by batting Parise’s pass out of the air.
Parise, by the way, scored his ninth goal tonight, which is second on the team behind Vanek, and has 26 shots the past six games. Mikael Granlund assisted on it and has 13 points in the past 15 games. He was outstanding on the winning goal shift. Pominville also had an assist and has a point in six of the past seven games.
That’s it for me. The Wild’s spending the night in San Jose because the 7:30 game made the airport curfew here tough to beat. Sunday is an off-day and I get home Sunday night, so barring news, I’ll talk to you next after Monday’s practice.