The Minnesota Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 Sunday evening in a battle between two of the top teams in the Western Conference. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was pleased his squad emerged with two points saying, “It was a big win for us before we head out on the road.” This was one of the most bizarre games I’ve seen the Wild play. Minnesota scored 3 goals on just 13 total shots. That’s not a typo. The Wild managed just 13 total shots on goal for the entire game, 5 shots in the 1st period, 6 shots in the 2nd, and a measly 2 shots in the 3rd period. Both teams failed to find the back of the net in the opening period. Minnesota scored a a pair of goals in the second and added an empty net goal late in the third. San Jose’s lone tally came in the third period with just 1:41 left on the clock. 3 goals on 13 shots equates to an amazing 23% shooting efficiency for the Wild. The Sharks however totaled just a single goal on 38 total shots. That works out to a shooting efficiency of 2.6%. Ouch. The Wild moved into a tie for second place in the tight Central Division While the Sharks lose ground to the Pacific Division leading Anaheim Ducks. Minnesota improved their overall record to 18-9-5 and continue to dominate opponents at the Xcel Energy Center, moving their home record to 13-3-2, the best in the Western Conference. They are tied with the Boston Bruins for the best home record in the NHL. In the Central Division race the Wild’s 41 points are tied with St. Louis and just 6 back of conference leading Chicago’s 47. The loss drops the Shark’s overall record to 19-6-5 and 9-5-3 outside of the Shark Tank.
By far the biggest story of the night was the stellar play by Wild net minder Josh Harding who’s overall record improves to 16-4-3 and an incredible 13-1-0 with a goals against average of 1.25 and a save percentage of .945 in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. Harding’s at or near the top of the NHL in several categories including a league leading goals against average of 1.50. In shutouts he’s tied for the league lead at 3, ranks third in save percentage at .938 and is tied for second in wins with 16. Sunday evening alone he made 37 saves on 38 shots. San Jose launched 11 shots in the opening period and just 6 shots in the third. The second period is where Harding really stood tall and showed why he is the Minnesota Wild’s #1 goal tender. The Sharks let loose with a barrage of 21, yes twenty-one, shots on goal in the middle period. Harding was equal to the task at hand and with some help offensively emerged with a two goal lead. The Sharks pulled goalie Annti Niemi with 2:18 left on the clock and finally put one past Harding at the 18:19 mark to cut the Wild lead in half. Patrick Marleau scored with Matthew Irwin and Logan Couture picking up the assists. The 39 Shark shots were season and career highs for Harding while the 13 shots on goal by the Wild was a season low.
The first period of the game had the appearance of another case where the Wild would not get many shots, fail to capitalize on chances and head out on the road empty handed after a disappointing home game. Wrong! In the second period the Wild opened the scoring at the 3:55 mark as Marco Scandela launched a shot from the point caromed off bodies in front of the Shark net, including Jason Pominville, Zach Parise was crashing the net, picked up the loose puck and buried it before Niemi could react. The announced crowd of 18,411 erupted as the Wild took the lead. Just over 4 minutes later MInnesota extended the lead to 2-0 on a Mikko Koivu goal with Jared Spurgeon and Dany Heatley picking up the assists. The assist for Spurgeon was his 4th in his last 4 games and his 10th of the season. His 10 assists in 32 games this season match his assist total for ALL of last season. Koivu’s goal would turn out to be the game winner and the 20th of his career. He now has 24 total points this season on 7 goals and 17 assists. The final goal for Minnesota would come once again from the stick of Zach Parise. The empty net tally was his second of the game, and his third multi-goal game of the season. The two points bring his total to 26 for the season, tops on the team with nearly 2/3 of the season still to be played.
As I mentioned earlier this was a bizarre game but, any win is a good win for the Wild. They are keeping pace with or closing in on Colorado, St, Louis and Chicago. The Wild have 50 games left on the regular season schedule and if the first 32 are any indicator every point is going to be precious and hard fought to obtain. Minnesota is entering a stretch of the schedule in which they play 7 of the next 8 games on the road. During that stretch they face some of the best teams in the Western Conference and 3 teams from the east. Next up for the Wild are the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday in Anaheim. Sunday evening was a bizarre game, but a win and I’ll take a Wild win over a loss any time not matter how bizarre it may be. I’ll be back Wednesday morning with a preview of The Wild vs the Ducks. Until then this is Scott Drain calling from the rooftops, “Let’s Go Wild!!!”