The Minnesota Wild skated into the Pengrowth Saddledome tonight and it took a shootout against the Calgary Flames to skate out with the win. The Wild have finally won their first road game of the season! This was Mikko Koivu‘s 500th game in the NHL, all of which have been with the Wild. Mikko has 110 goals and 260 assists, good for 370 points in his career, but was unable to add to that total tonight. He did, however, score the game-winning goal in the shootout–the 28th of his career. Zach Parise had the other shootout goal, a slow moving double pump, deke beauty against rookie Flames netminder Leland Irving. Niklas Backstrom stopped two of three Calgary shooters to secure the victory for the Wild. Minnesota got a couple of monkeys off their backs tonight, the first road win of the year and Kyle Brodziak scored his first goal of the year. There is precious little time to enjoy this victory though.
The team jumps right on the charter tonight flying to Vancouver to face the Canucks in the second game of a back-to-back. This will be their third of nine back-to-backs on the schedule this season. This was the fifth game in a row that the Wild have scored just a single goal in regulation. They have managed to turn the last two into wins in OT and a shootout. Single goal games, however, are not going to get you into the playoffs. After the game, Zach Parise said of the win, “It wasn’t pretty, but it’s good to get the first one out of the way.” Talking about the lack of scoring he added, “We’ve gotta start putting more pucks in the net.” Wild winger Devin Setoguchi termed tonight, “One of the ugliest wins you’ll ever see.” This was not an exciting game by any stretch of the imagination. Both goals came in a 3:06 stretch between the 18:22 mark of the second and 1:28 of the third. The rest of the game was choppy, disjointed and lacking in flow for either team. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo, in his post game comments said, “Our execution was very poor tonight.” He added, “We weren’t winning battles, we weren’t winning races.”
The Wild started the first period well. They generated two shots and two great chances within the first minute of the game. They had eight shots on goal by the 10:00 mark. Then, they went without a shot on goal for the rest of the period. Minnesota also generated only two shots in 16 minutes of even-strength hockey. Two power play chances in the first period generated what we’ve been seeing all season–good chances, but no pucks in the back of the net. For the evening, the Wild went zero for four on the power play, dropping their success rate with the man advantage to 15.6%, good for 20th in the league. The penalty kill, however, was a perfect two for two, raising it to 86%, good for 8th in the NHL and 4th in the Western Conference. The Wild’s defensive corps was the biggest difference maker in the game tonight. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were excellent, and Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “Brodin and Suter were our two best back there.”
With the possible return of Jared Spurgeon from IR, the Wild would have 8 healthy defensemen, necessitating a roster move. Marco Scandella, who doesn’t have to clear waivers, would seem to be the odd man out. The next three sentences may sound familiar. Despite inconsistent play, and a lack of goal scoring, the Wild managed to win the game. Fantastic goaltending by Niklas Backstrom made the difference for Minnesota tonight. The Wild have to start turning more of these great chances into goals because a goal a game won’t cut it. Sounds familiar, huh? Game after game this season, that’s what we hear from the players, the coaches, the writers and the fans. If this team is to start getting into position to make the playoffs, and join the elite squads in the Western Conference, we know what has to change.
In what was a very even game all around, 23 was the magic number of saves for both goaltenders. Calgary managed just seven in the first, 10 in the second, six in the third and only a single shot in OT. Minnesota blocked 14 Calgary shot attempts tonight, while generating 43 attempts of their own. We saw more willingness to put the puck toward the net, now we need more bodies in front to deflect some pucks or clean up on the rebounds. Going to the net is what Kyle Brodziak did when Ryan Suter forced a turnover by Jarome Iginla. Setoguchi grabbed the errant puck, made a beautiful pass to Brodziak, who undressed goalie Irving, scoring his first of year. The Wild stayed disciplined throughout the game, only taking two minor penalties. One missed call by the officials, however, was Jiri Hudler‘s high stick on Setoguchi, that sent the winger to the bench where he reached up and popped out one of his upper, front teeth. He didn’t miss a shift. Wow.
The Flames finally broke through early in the third period, on a goal by Hudler. The score came on a two-on-one break generated by a puck hopping Clayton Stoner‘s stick as he pinched in the Calgary zone. Roman Cervenka tossed the puck to Hudler, who skated in and beat Backstrom five hole to tie the game at one apiece. That was all the scoring for the night until the shootout. Coach Yeo sent out Parise, Koivu and Cullen. Calgary countered with Blair Jones, Hudler, and Alex Tanguay. Backstrom stuffed Jones on the first attempt. Hudler came in slowly, deked getting Backstrom to commit and slid the puck home. Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, Parise and Koivu scored. Tanguay skated in, made a move right, then left, then tried to stuff it in on the right side. Backstrom slammed the door sealing the win for Minnesota.
Now the Wild move on to face division-leading Vancouver on Tuesday night. Minnesota hopes to ride the momentum of these two wins to victory, in what has been a house of horrors as of late. The Canucks are 7-2-1 over their last 10 games including a 4-1 shellacking of the Wild in St. Paul last Thursday. GonePuckWild.com will have a full preview of Tuesday nights game later today. Let’s GO Wild!!!