Home sweet home.
After a dreary 1-2-1 road trip that featured the Wild chasing every game and not holding a single lead in regulation, the Wild returned to the cozy, comfy confines of Xcel Energy Center, where its only previous loss this season was to Saturday’s opponent, the Nashville Predators.
The Wild got payback, opening a four-game homestand by breezing past the surly, ill-tempered division rivals 4-0.
“We were just on, finally. It’s been a while,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who burned his former team with a goal and two assists. “We hadn’t been playing well at all on the road. We knew that we had to come home and get this thing turned around quick.”
In a hard-hitting affair that included scrums, smack-talking, a couple of scraps and the Wild routinely drawing the ire of the fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, James Neal, the Wild stopped a three-game winless streak by improving to 8-1 at home.
Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek each had a goal and assist, Jonas Brodin scored his first goal of the season, Jason Pominville had two assists and Devan Dubnyk, making his 11th consecutive start, stopped 23 shots for his third shutout this season and 17th of his career.
“This was a real good bounce-back game,” coach Mike Yeo said. “The blueprint of it looked a lot more the way that our game should look. … I saw a lot more purpose in a lot of the little things that have been ailing us.”
Neal, who on Nov. 5 injured Zach Parise and took runs at Nate Prosser and Charlie Coyle, had the tone set early when Prosser and Ryan Carter both wanted to fight him. Neal wouldn’t oblige, but with a 3-0 deficit, Neal and Prosser dropped the mitts for a spirited encounter.
Fans and teammates showed Prosser their appreciation.
“I felt it coming,” Prosser, his face scraped and bloodied, said afterward.
Said Dubnyk: “It shows how we feel about what [Neal] did to our best player. It was important just for the symbolic part of it. Guys are going to fight for each other.”
For the first time in five games, the Wild struck first. The 11-5-3 team is 9-1 when scoring first.
“As soon as that went in, there was a lot of relief for our team. We’ve been chasing, and that’s what’s taken away from our structure,” said Suter, who has three goals and 13 points in the past 11 games and leads the Wild with 19 points, which ranks third among NHL defensemen.
Assistant coach Andrew Brunette made a power-play first-unit adjustment, moving the right-shot Pominville into the right circle that has been occupied all season by left-shots Parise, Marco Scandella and Jason Zucker.
That unit scored twice, with Suter firing through a Vanek screen for a 1-0 lead and Pominville setting up Vanek to make it 4-0. In between, Granlund popped in Christian Folin’s juicy rebound and not long after Folin drew a power play and fought Eric Nystrom, and Brodin buried one with Vanek again planted at the net.
Frustrated goalie Pekka Rinne smashed his stick in half subsequently.
From there, Dubnyk shut the door, and Neal, Nashville’s top scorer who plays with an edge, continued his clashes with Wild players. His final words were aimed at Dubnyk.
After crashing the net in the waning seconds, Neal “told me he hopes that I don’t get a shutout,” Dubnyk said, laughing. “I imagine you don’t. You’re on the ice.”