Tonight was not the prettiest win by the the Minnesota Wild as they beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. After the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “Bottom line is we did enough good things to win this hockey game.” This was just the 13th meeting between the two teams since the Wild’s inception in 2000. It doesn’t matter how you win they still count 2 points in the standings. Minnesota is now 3rd in the Central Division standings with 8 points. They trail the St. Louis Blues (8 points) and the Colorado Avalanche (10 points), both of whom are undefeated on the season. The Chicago Blackhawks are just one point back of Minnesota with one fewer game played. The Wild used a first period goal by Kyle Brodziak and a second period power play tally by Jason Pominville to get the win. Buffalo is still winless on the season and owns not only the worst record in the Eastern Conference but the worst record in the NHL. Josh Harding got the win, his third straight and one shy of his career high. Hards faced 23 shots tonight while the Wild put only 20 on Buffalo net minder Enroth, their lowest shot total this season.This was also the first time the Wild have been outshot through 6 games this season. Minnesota also scored a power play goal giving them the 5th best mark in the league at 30.8% going 1 for 3 on the night. Their penalty kill, which has struggles this season, improved to 72.7%. The Wild killed off all four of the Buffalo power play chances, allowing just 4 shots on the 4 man advantages.
The Wild opened the scoring just 5:23 into the game when Kyle Brodziak took a feed from Matt Cooke and fired the puck past Jhonas Enroth. The goal was Brodziak’s first of the season. The helpers on the goal went to Cooke and Jonas Brodin. Cooke leads the Wild with 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) while Brodin is second with 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) Even more amazing than Cooke’s point total is the fact that he has 0, yes zero, penalty minutes through 6 games this season. Amazing for a player with a total of 1,068 in his NHL career. The second goal for Minnesota came from the stick of Jason Pominville and nicely capped of his return to Buffalo. He has now scored a goal against all 30 of the teams in the NHL. Pominville scored on a highlight reel play that began at the Wild’s blue line with 7, count em’ 7, passes finishing with a pass from Jared Spurgeon (1 goal, 3 assists) to Koivu (0 goals, 4 assists) at full speed, Mikko then found Pominville racing down the right side. Pominville corralled the puck and sent a wrister whistling on goal. This power play goal is what coaches and players dream about. Precision tape to tape passing concluding with a snap shot that glances off the goalie’s left shoulder and caroms directly into the back of the net. On the night Pominville recorded 1 goal on 4 shots in 15:51 of ice time. It was a busy, emotional day for #29 as he faced a large throng of media before and after the game, returned to the arena where he spent the first decade of his career and reconnected with former teammates. Another first for Pominville was using the visitors locker room at the First Niagara Center, a room he said he had never been in. The game winning goal was the cherry on top of the sundae for Pominville who received a warm welcome from fans when he was announced as one of Minnesota’s starters.
Josh Harding started his third straight game in goal for the Wild and made it his third straight victory turning away 22 of 23 shots. The only goal he allowed came after a Parise turnover in the neutral zone that turned into a three on two rush for Buffalo. Brian Flynn recorded the goal with Zemgus Girgensons picking up the lone assist. Hardings record now stands at 3 wins and 1 loss with a save percentage of .946 and a goals against average at 1.06. He ranks 3rd in the league in goals against average and 8th in save percentage. His three victories rank 3rd, tied with 7 other goalies. Niklas Backstrom is said to be close to returning from the knee injury that sidelined him 4 games ago. Why rush him back when Harding is playing so well in his stead. When he does return the Wild will clearly have two #1 net minders a rare luxury in the NHL these days. In my opinion make sure Backstrom is 100% healthy before he returns and not risk any further damage. A goalie with a questionable knee can become a real liability quickly. Backstrom’s job is safe, Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo has planned on platooning his two net minders all season long, using whoever is the hottest on any given day. If Harding or Backstrom end up on IR, the Iowa Wild’s Darcy Kuemper has proven himself to be a capable fill in with 6 games in the NHL, a 1-2 record, 2.08 GAA and a .916 save %. So wait until Backy’s ready and ride the hot hand of Josh Harding. The Wild do have the second game of this back to back games in Toronto against the Atlantic Division leading Maple Leafs. Coach Yeo has been mum on who will be in goal Tuesday. I’d expect that decision to come at the end of the morning skate Tuesday morning. At the other end of the ice tonight was Jhonas Enroth whose record fell to 0-2 on the season with a GAA of 2.65 and save percentage of .909. He got the start tonight giving #1 goal tender Ryan Miller a night off before the Sabres face the New York Islanders Tuesday night.
On the injury front two wild players needed medical attention during the game. Clayton Stoner left the ice after a fight with Cody McCormick at the 11:27 mark of the first period. Stoner headed to the locker room blood streaming from his nose. He did return to the ice and totaled 14:47 in ice time for the game. He should be ready to go for tomorrow night unless Coach Yeo make him a healthy scratch. The other injury was suffered by Keith Ballard who took a puck to the face in the 3rd period and did not return. After the game Coach Yeo said Ballard suffered a cut but not anything serious. I’d expect to see him in the lineup Tuesday evening.
The Minnesota Wild are on a winning streak and have looked pretty good over the last three games scoring 9 goals while surrendering just 3. They will face a real test Tuesday when the take on the Maple Leafs. I’ll be back later this morning with a game preview of Minnesota vs Toronto. Until next time this is Scott Drain victoriously shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”