The Minnesota Wild won their second straight game Sunday night shutting out the New Jersey Devils 4-0 in front 17,571 fans at the Xcel Energy Center. Three big things happened in this game. 1) Josh Harding picked up his 2nd shutout of the season with a 19 save performance. 2) Dany Heatley scored! That is NOT a typo, Heatley scored a power play goal in the 3rd period. 3) Mikael Granlund scored a goal and the assist went to Jason Pominville. Those are the best things to come out of a good performance by the Wild who jump over the St. Louis Blues and take over 3rd place in the Central Division with 19 points on a record of 8-4-3. Minnesota now trails 2nd place Chicago by 3 points and division leading Colorado by 5.
The Wild had a bit of a slow start against the Devils, not registering a shot for more than 6 minutes into the game but, once they got going a struggling New Jersey team couldn’t stop them. Minnesota scored a goal in each period and added an empty netter late in the 3rd as they shut out and shut down the Devils. New Jersey has now been shut out in back to back games and has not scored a goal in 7 periods. OUCH! The Wild out shot the Devils 20 to 19 on the night the difference was the Wild capitalized on their chances and the Devils flat out did not. New Jersey had chances in this game but each time either Josh Harding or the Wild’s defense had the answer. The Devils had 3 power play chances, including one at the 19:14 mark of the period that carried over 1:14 into the 2nd stanza. This is a Wild squad that has had a habit of getting into penalty trouble this season. Sunday evening the Minnesota penalty killers had the answer each time, going 3 for 3 on the night. Between the 1st and 2nd periods the penalty situation must have been “discussed” as Minnesota didn’t take any penalties in the 2nd and 3rd periods. None.
The Wild scored first with Mikael Granlund picking up his first goal of the season to go with his 10 assists, that places him 3rd on the Wild with 11 points. The goal came on a rebound after Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter shots were stopped by net minder Cory Schneider. The puck then slid out front to Granlund who slammed it into the empty net before Schneider could get up from the previous save. Goal number two came out of a crush of players in front of the Devils net. Parise snapped a shot on goal that deflected off of Schneider, then caromed off a couple more bodies before hitting Torrey Mitchell and Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky before going into the net. The Wild’s third goal came on a beautiful deflection of a Keith Ballard shot by Dany Heatley on the power play. The goal was Heatleys 141st power play marker of his career. That’s the most by ANY player since the 2001-02 season. Heater had a great game, making crisp passes, forechecking well, and winning battles. Hopefully this opens the floodgates for more goal production from Heatley. The last goal of the night went to Jason Pominville, an empty netter that is his team leading 10th goal of the season. He is second on the Wild in points with 12 (10g, 2a). While we’re on the subject, Pominville’s line mate, Nino Niederreiter accumulated 3 assists for the game giving him a total of 9 points on the season (3g, 6a). El Nino assisted on the Wild’s first, third and fourth goals. That makes the totals on the night for the Pominville, Granlund, Niederreiter line 2 goals, 4 assists and a combined +7 rating. Not a bad night once again for the Wild’s most productive line this season. Zach Parise faced his old team for the first time since joining Minnesota in 2012 and picked up an assist on the Mitchell goal. He is second on the Wild in points with 11 on 5 goals and 6 assists.
Now on to Josh Harding. “Hards” had a great night in net. He was seeing the puck well, not giving up rebounds and directing other shots to the corners, out of harms way. Harding entered the night leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage. All he did was improve on those numbers and now sports a fantastic 1.10 goals against average to go with a .950 save percentage. His record now stands at 7-2-1 with 2 shutouts in 11 games this season. It’s going to be tough for Mike Yeo to put Niklas Backstrom in the lineup when Harding is playing so well. I’d look for Backstrom only in back to back game situations or when Harding really needs a rest. The Wild are enjoying the rare luxury of having two top flight net minders this season. The losing goalie, Schneider, see his record fall to 1-4-2 with a 2.27 goals against avg. and a .907 save percentage. This was Schneider’s first game back after missing three with a lower body injury.
Another area of the game dominated by the Wild tonight was in the faceoff circle. Minnesota won 39 of 54 draws with Mikko Koivu winning 14 of 20 andKyle Brodziak taking 11 of 13. Tonight the Wild won 72% of the faceoffs and are second in the league with a 55.7% average. They are just a tenth of a percent out of the top spot held by the L.A. Kings. All in all it was a satisfying night for the Wild who have now won five of their last six games and wrap up a four game homestand against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. The goals are finally coming with a total of 14 over the last four games. The power play is working, 2nd in the league at 24.6% while the penalty kill is improving and coming up with big kills when needed as of late. The Wild also allow the fewest shots against, with opponents averaging less than 24 per game. It’s still early in the season but the Minnesota Wild seem to be coming together well. The trick is going to be sustaining their recent string of successful outings. That wraps things up for this Wild vs Devils game review. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of the Wild vs Flames. Until then enjoy this win and as always this is Scott Drain loudly chanting, “Let’s Go Wild!!”