Tonight’s Minnesota Wild 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers can be summed up in one word–WOW! Other one-word descriptions include; domination, complete, authoritative, superiority, trounced and delightful. A crowd of 18,675 watched, as Minnesota played their most complete game of the season. They outshot the Oilers 43 to 20, including a stretch in which Edmonton went 23:36 without a shot on goal. That stretch included the entire second period, during which the Wild outshot them 18-o.
With the win, the Wild move into the 6th spot in the Western Conference standings with 24 points. There is quite a logjam in the conference, with the difference between 3rd and 11th place just 4 points. Minnesota is tied with San Jose, St. Louis, Dallas and Detroit with 24 points, the positions of 4th through 8th decided by tie breakers. The Vancouver Canucks also lost tonight, bringing Minnesota to within two points of the division lead, and a top three conference position. Edmonton now sits in last place in the Northwest Division, and 14th in the Western Conference standings.
Leading up to the game, there were questions about how the Wild would react to Taylor Hall, who was suspended for two games for his dirty hit on Cal Clutterbuck. The thigh injury has caused Clutterbuck to miss five games, including tonight’s tilt. Fans instantly wondered if the Wild would exact some sort of on-ice payback. The point became moot when Hall didn’t suit up with a reported lower body or hamstring injury. When asked about Hall after the game, Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “This game, for us, was all about getting two points.”
The Wild will need every ounce of momentum they have built up, as they travel to Chicago and face the Blackhawks at the United Center on Tuesday. Chicago won today in a shootout over Detroit, extending their record-setting run to 22 games of recording at least a point. The Wild were the first team to beat the Blackhawks this season, getting the job done in a shootout 3-2 back on January 30th. Minnesota had eight players record a point tonight, three of whom had multiple point games.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon had the first goal of the night, and added an assist later, for the third multi-point game of his career. Spurgeon opened the scoring for Minnesota just 2:37 into the first period with a rocket from the point, beating Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk. Rookie Charlie Coyle also had a goal and an assist for the first multi-point night of his young career. There are sure to be many, many more for the budding star. Captain Mikko Koivu had three points on the night, scoring a goal and adding two helpers, all in the third period. Koivu’s goal came just 9 seconds into the period, tying the team record for the fastest Wild goal to start a third period. The 3-point night was the 20th of his career; Minnesota is 18-2-0 when their captain scores three points in a game. When asked after the game if the team was getting frustrated with 29 shots on goal after two periods and only a single goal to show for it Mikko replied, “When you have that many (shots) you have to believe it’s going to happen.” Another interesting stat is, every Wild player, with the lone exception of Mike Rupp, recorded at least one shot on goal tonight. Another good statistic is, 13 of the 19 Wild skaters were even or better in the +/- category. They were led by d-man Jared Spurgeon who was a plus-3 for the night, as well as the No. 1 star of the game. He was also named the NHL Network’s #3 star of the night as well. Not too shabby for a player who was told in junior hockey that he was too small to play at ANY level above juniors. Spurgeon just continues to prove his critics wrong, not with his mouth, but with his actions on the ice. The soft spoken defenseman has quietly become one of the Wild’s most dependable defenders in just his third NHL season.
Defensively, the Wild were nothing short of spectacular. They held the Oilers to seven shots in the first, ZERO in the second and 14 desperate shots in the third. The shots in the third were mostly from the perimeter, and fairly harmless. When Niklas Backstrom has a good look at a long distance shot, you’ll have a better chance at winning the Powerball jackpot than scoring on him. The defensive pairings of Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin, Tom Gilbert-Justin Falk, and Jared Spurgeon-Clayton Stoner were in shut down mode all night. They accounted for 13 shots on goal, a plus-2 rating on the night and zero penalty minutes total for the game. The defense corps were also essential in shutting down the Oilers young guns. While we’re on the subject of penalties, there were only 4 minors the entire game. The only penalty the Wild were assessed was a tripping minor to center Matt Cullen midway through the second period. Edmonton took just three penalties, totaling six minutes. As I mentioned in the game preview, a key to the game for the Wild was producing on the power play. Minnesota went 1 for 3 on the night, with Dany Heatley scoring on a beautiful tip-in of a Koivu shot. The power play marker raised the Wild’s success rate to 14.5 % for the season. Minnesota easily killed Edmonton’s lone try with the man advantage, allowing limited time in the offensive zone and zero shots on goal.
Rookie Jonas Brodin had another excellent game, playing like a veteran. He continues to excel and play beyond his years, paired with all-star Ryan Suter. At just 19 years old, Brodin is among the top rookies in the NHL in ice time, averaging 21:53 per game. He ranks 65th in the league, averaging 2 seconds more than superstar Sidney Crosby. He skated 21:19 and had two shots on goal tonight alone. The only player with more time on the ice tonight, was his defensive partner, Ryan Suter, who had 24:22. Suter’s time tonight was some 3 minutes below his average of 27:25, number one in the league. Brodin plays with poise and an intelligence that has many mentioning him in the race for the Calder Trophy. That’s some pretty heady praise for the young Swede. His play tonight, and all season, have made him a valuable player on this team for years to come.
The Wild had contributions offensively from their top three lines, totaling nine points for the game. Head Coach Mike Yeo says he doesn’t have lines 1-4, but four lines that play well together, and compliment each others’ strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses. Each line has two veterans, and a rookie or younger player. Spurgeon opened the scoring at 2:37 of the 1st and Koivu kicked thing off with a bang 9 seconds into the third, next up was rookie Charlie Coyle. He scored the eventual game winner at the 6:09 mark of the final stanza when he Koivu slid a slick pass to Zach Parise who fed Coyle for a backhander from the slot that beat Oilers net minder Dubnyk on the stick side. Post game Coyle said, “We played a full 60, that’s what mattered.” “We knew we had the momentum going into the third.” Wild coach Mike Yeo, talking about Coyle’s play, after the game said, “Mikko and Zach have done a phenomenal job with that kid.”
About six minutes later the Wild were victims of another bizarre, fluke of a goal. A Koivu clearing attempt from behind the Wild goal hit Sam Gagner, popped into the air, bounced off Ryan Suter and past Backstrom for the goal. Gagner was perhaps the most surprised of anyone that the puck went in the net. Puck luck–sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. This was the second time in two games that a fluke goal went against Minnesota. Against Anaheim, the puck clipped a plastic retainer at the top of the glass along the half wall, kicked directly by Backstrom through a small gap between the post and the pads before the shocked netminder could react. Gagner’s goal made it a 3-2 contest. The final nail in the Oilers’ coffin this evening, was the power play marker by Heatley. Suter and Koivu has the assists on the goal. That made 10 assists for Suter over the last 11 games; he has a total of 14 on the season–including five on the man advantage.
The Oilers were held to two goals. They went 0 for 3 on the power play, despite having a top-10 ranking with the man advantage. Minnesota kept them at bay, forcing them to shoot from the perimeter, and have limited puck possession time in the offensive zone. Goalie Devan Dubnyk’s record falls to 6-7-3 on the year. The Oilers are now 0-19-1 in their last 20 trips to St. Paul. The last time Edmonton was held shotless for an entire period, was six years ago in November of 2006. Edmonton Head Coach Ralph Krueger summed up the game for his squad saying, “It was an extremely disappointing second period, there’s no question,” “It was amazing how we lost almost every battle that there was.” The Oilers are in the midst of a nine-game road trip and are 1-3 so far. Next, they face the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday.
The Wild are now 4-0-1 in the last five games at the Xcel Energy Center. They now head out on the road for a pair of games against the mighty Blackhawks, and the 10th place Nashville Predators. They return home for three straight at the “X” March 10th through 14th. Coach Yeo said of the upcoming stretch of games, “The better we play with the puck, the better we execute, the fewer goals the other team will get.” Four of the five teams the Wild face over the next 10 days are currently ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. It’s a tough stretch, but a chance for Minnesota to solidify their place among the playoff contenders. In addition, they can make a run at the top of the Northwest Division, and knock the Canucks down a notch or two. Tonight’s game showed us what can happen when the Minnesota Wild play a full 6o minutes, and are firing on all cylinders. When the guys are all focused, sharp mentally, well rested, and healthy physically, they are a force to be reckoned with. When asked about the upcoming game Tuesday against Chicago Coach Yeo said,” It’s time to turn our sights and focus on how we need to play this one.” “I love this challenge.” He added, “We have to play OUR game, we’re a darn good team too.” Sage words from the Wild coach. Enjoy the solid win tonight, but get back to work bright and early tomorrow before traveling to Chicago in the afternoon.
I hope all of you had as much fun watching this game as I did. If you missed it, you missed the best game Minnesota has played all season. GonePuckWild.com will have full coverage of the Wild vs Blackhawks, beginning with the game preview Tuesday morning. Until then, LET’S GO WILD!!