Not much more I can add here that I didn’t write in my game story, … but that hasn’t stopped me before.
Last year, the Wild started 2-0 with a couple dominating performances and shutouts against the Colorado Avalanche. This year, the Wild has started 2-0 with a couple very uneven performances against the Avalanche and St. Louis Blues – the two teams it eliminated in the past two postseasons.
Perhaps that means the Wild’s getting better. At least that’s the optimistic point of view.
One game after rallying from a three-goal, third-period deficit to stun the Avs, the Wild held on in the third period tonight to beat the Blues, 3-2, and improve to 13-0-2 all-time in home openers.
And when I say the Wild held on, I mean the Wild held on.
Its only shot in the third period came from Ryan Carter with, I think, 5:07 left. Play 507 in the Cash 3 lottery (do they have those here? They had them in Florida when I lived there), by the way. 5:07 was when the Colorado rally begun and the fourth goal was scored 5:07 later.
On the other end, Devan Dubnyk, whom I felt looking like he was fighting things in Colorado and had a couple conniption fits in Friday’s practice when he was giving up goals, stopped 12 of 13 shots in the third period to grab his 99th career win with a 30-save effort. He’ll go for No. 100 Thursday at Arizona, his former team.
I thought the Wild was lousy for much of the second period, too, but the Blues took three penalties in a row to turn the game around and the Wild capitalized by scoring two, as Ken Hitchcock called em, “fluky” goals 21 seconds apart.
Zach Parise’s fourth goal of the season came on his second power-play goal. Parise was attempting to pass to Jason Pominville in front of the net, but Jay Bouwmeester went down to block the shot, turned to protect himself and the puck hit his stick and fluttered over Jake Allen.
As the crowd was still cheering, Coyle scored his second goal of the game. Ryan Suter, who had a great game and assisted on Parise’s goal, too, made a nice play at the point to get a shot on net. The puck hit the post and rebounded to Thomas Vanek. Vanek was in a tight angle basically behind the goal line, so he tried to bank it off Allen. It hit him and then apparently deflected in off Coyle.
Originally Vanek was credited his 300th career goal, but during the second intermission, the official scorer made the uncomfortable decision to change it to Coyle.
Coyle joked that Vanek got two standing O’s for it at least.
Hitchcock, who told me this morning he wouldn’t hesitate to risk his timeout to challenge a goal, challenged that Coyle interfered with Allen. Referee Brad Meier, in concert with the Toronto video room, upheld his own decision and called it a goal.
Columnist Jim Souhan wrote a good Coyle/Vanek column for Sunday’s paper, so check that out, but Coyle’s first goal by making something out of nothing with eight seconds left in the first to snap a 0-0 tie was awesome.
With 18 seconds left in a scoreless period, the Wild got stuck with a defensive-zone draw because of a second offside call of the period by linesman Matt MacPherson on Vanek.
The Wild veteran wholeheartedly disagreed, but it worked out bigtime for the Wild. Yeo threw two centers onto the ice in case Mikko Koivu got tossed out of the faceoff circle.
The second center was Coyle. After Koivu tied up center Paul Stastny on the draw, defenseman Jonas Brodin found the loose puck and sent it ahead to Coyle at the defensive blue line. Coyle chipped it off the wall past Gunnarsson and skated hard to put pressure on the Blues’ defense as he crossed alone into the St. Louis end.
With Coyle forechecking, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s outlet pass deflected off a charging Coyle. He picked up the puck in the fight circle and roofed a nifty backhander over Allen’s glove for his first goal of the season. When Coyle scored, there wasn’t a Wild player anywhere in the vicinity. He was in the zone all by his lonesome, which made the pretty goal even cooler.
It was the same type of determination that Coyle showed Thursday in Denver when he muscled Matt Duchene off the puck on a backcheck. He stole the puck, sent it to Mikael Granlund and Granlund fed Vanek for the tying goal in the Wild’s comeback win.
As I wrote in the gamer though, Yeo was dissatisfied with the win though and you can bet will now use this four-day break to really work on the details of the Wild's game.
“It’s good to get wins this time of year,” he said. “Nobody’s on top of their game completely, but when you can get wins when you’re not on top of your game, that’s a good thing.”
He’s trying to get the team out of summer mode, which is the challenge for all coaches this time of year. I had this exact conversation this morning with Hitchcock.
“There’s a lot of lessons, there’s a lot of areas of your game that are just not there,” Yeo said.
He said there were plenty of good things (like players like Granlund paying the price in the final minute to block shots; he cracked his Tuuk blade holder), but “there’s a lot of things we have to get better at, structure-wise, details-wise, piecing plays together. Third period, it looked like a number of times we forgot to take our smart pills there. Just making things hard on ourselves. But all in all, it’s good to be 2-0.”
I can’t tell you how many times I blurted out in the press box in the third period when a player simply didn’t do the smart thing and get the puck deep with a one-goal lead.
“Just complicating things on ourselves, silly turnovers,” Yeo said. “These are little things that you don’t have to think about all summer long when you’re playing shinny hockey and you’re doing your skates. It’s habits we have to build back into the guys. It’s not a matter of their intentions not being in the right place. Those are the moments when thinking isn’t a possibility for you. Things happen too quick and the pressure’s on, and that’s when you resort to your habits. And that’s why we have to get back to building the right ones.
“Our only mindset right now is we have to get better. It’s nice to win games right now. It’s really important. But if you win 10 games in a row and you don’t get better, then you’re going to still be in a bad spot.
“It’s normal not to be quite on top of it, but being a group that has been together for awhile, I’d expect we’ll get there pretty quickly.”
Yeo is really happy with Coyle’s game right now, and he said two games in a row, Vanek is playing the game the right way.
This is really, really interesting to a hockey geek like me, but Yeo said, “We’re not piecing that line together to be a checking line. We’re looking for that line to contribute. That’s the way most teams are built in the NHL now. It’s no longer where you have two scoring lines and a checking line and a physical line. Now, most teams have three lines that can really score and a fourth line that’s really strong checking line. That’s our intention.”
That is why tonight that Yeo was willing to go with everybody against the Blues studs, like Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
He said he has to entrust his players and give them the opportunity to show they’re capable of doing it. This is the interesting quote to me: “The system doesn’t change from one line to the next. All those guys have the ability to be really good defensively. That’s our game, that’s who we are. It’s nice that we score more goals than we have in the past, it’s nice that we have more skill. But that stuff doesn’t matter unless we’re a good defensive team.”
Dubnyk got little action in the preseason. He was 3-0 but faced only 54 shots, so he said it was great tonight to feel some rubber just to get timing, patience on his feet, the ability to see plays and experience end-zone stuff.
“I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” he said. “I’m trying to build. It’s early in the season, so there’s good things and bad things. First goal, second goal, there are little things to sharpen up. The only way tio really do that is playing games.”
In Hitchcock’s mind, “I thought the best player on the ice was their goalie today. He was very good in the third period when they needed him. We had point-blank chances, we hit crossbars, but he played really well in the third period. When they needed him, he stood tall.”
He said it was important to start 2-0 with this big break coming up.
“That’s how big that game was in Colorado,” Dubnyk said. “It’s a much more confident and better feeling having the opportunity to go 2-0 than coming in at home against a real tough opponent trying not to go 0-2 because then you have to sit on it for a week.”
-- Jordan Schroeder was reassigned as expected after the game. To understand why, please read the previous blog.
-- Jason Zucker skated in his 100th game.
-- Ryan Suter was real good, had two assists in only 24:07 of ice time. It was his 60th career multi-point game.
That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you after Sunday’s practice. I’ll also be in studio at KFAN at 9:35 a.m. Monday.