The losing streak is broken! The Minnesota Wild have won their first game of the 2013-14 season, a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the Xcel Energy Center. The win improves the Wild’s record to 1-1-2 on the season, they also have 4 points, good for 4th in the Central Division. While the game vs the Jets was Minnesota’s first outright win they have picked up points in three of their first four games. Those points could well be the difference come April when playoffs positions are on the line.
While the final score was 2-1 the game wasn’t that close as Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec was the sole reason the score wasn’t 5 or 6 to 1. Pavelec made 28 saves on 30 shots, many of them spectacular. While Pavelec was busy defending the Jets goal, Wild net minder Josh Harding spent a great deal of the game as a spectator. Winnipeg managed only 6 shots in the first period, 4 in the second and just 5 in the third period for a total of 15 shots all game. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo shuffled the defensive pairings and the forward lines and those changes paid off nicely. The top D-pair of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin stayed together while Jared Spurgeon skated with Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner was paired with rookie Mathew Dumba. In his post game cOmments Minnesota Head Coach Yeo singled out Stoner saying, “He was great tonight, he was a warrior for us.” Yeo also praised rookie Mathew Dumba saying, “He (Dumba) took another big step this game.” The defense was good 5 on 5 and equally good on the penalty kill. The only goal the Jets managed to score came at the 19:15 point of the first period during a 5 on 3 power play. With Jonas Brodina and Kyle Brodziak taking penalties just 4 seconds apart the Jets Tobias Enstrom let loose a rocket from near the blue line that caromed off of Brian Little and underneath net minder Josh Harding tying the score at a goal apiece. The other 4 power plays for the Jets were effectively shut down by the Wild penalty killers.
Offensively the Wild put 30 shots at Jets goalie Pavelec and opened the scoring at the 7:39 mark of the opening period. Using their speed and a 4 on 2 rush Brodziak hit Matt Cooke in stride with a pass, Cooke let loose with a shot that deflected off of Jonas Brodin’s shaft an into the net. After a lengthy video review it was determined that the goal was good and credited to Brodin with the assists going to Cooke and Brodziak. Matt Cooke would pick up his second point of the game in the second period when Torrey Mitchell fired a wrist shot that Jets goalie Pavelec couldn’t handle with the puck dropping into the crease area. Matt Cooke, keeping his feet moving on the play, swooped in and poked the puck home making the score 2-1. He would also earn first star of the game honors, totaling a goal and an assist on 3 shots skating 15:57 of ice time and going a +2 for the game. Cooke is now tied with Parise, Granlund and Brodin for the team lead in points. I never thought Cooke would be leading the team in anything other than penalty minutes and suspensions. Of course it’s early in the season so we’ll see how things pan out after 40 games or so.
With Niklas Backstrom listed as day to day Josh Harding stepped right in and picked up the victory while facing an average of just 5 shots per period. Darcy Kuemper was called up from Des Moines to back up Harding until Backstrom is ready to return. The other call up from the Iowa Wild, Stephane Veilleux skated a team low 5:47 on the fourth line and registered 3 hits. Minnesota controlled the puck for the majority of the game and one key stat leaeding to that was face off wins. They won 45 of 61 draws setting a team record at 73.8% in the process. Head Coach Yeo’s line juggling seems to have worked with Nino Niederreiter joining the top line and Jason Pominville joining the second line with Dany Hatley and Mikael Granlund. The third line, which started the game consisted of Brodziak, Cooke, and Rookie Justin Fontaine. The fourth/checking line featured face off specialist Zenon Konopka, Mitchell and Veilleux. The fourth liners played a solid game seperating the jets from the puck again and again while Konopka won an amazing 79% of his face offs.
All in all it was a satisfying game for the Wild, they got the win and only had to play 60 minutes to do so. For the fourth straight game they outshot their opponents, tonight by a 2 to 1 margin. To date the Wild have registered 126 shots on goal while only surrendering 88. When was the last time you saw the Wild consistently outshoot opponents? They are averaging 31.5 shots a game while giving up an average of just 22.o. Couple that with winning the face off battle and the future looks bright for the boys from St. Paul. The younger players are fitting in with the veterans and the team seems to be gaining confidence with each passing game. Granted it’s early in the season but I’m liking what I see so far. Next up for Minnesota is the Dallas Stars on home ice before heading out on a four game road trip. The first win of the season sure feels good. Now the Wild need to take what they’ve learned and apply it next time out. I’ll be back with a preview of the Wild vs Stars Saturday morning. Until then this is Scott Drain triumphantly shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!”