The Minnesota Wild wiped up the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild celebrated their 1000th regular season game by winning their 457th game to go with 400 losses and 143 ties. On home ice they are 267-159-75 on home ice and 190-241-68 on the road. Tonight once again it was the Wild’s younger players who did the heavy lifting though they did receive some help from the veterans. A few highlights include; defenseman Nate Prosser scoring the game winning goal, Darcy Kuemper picked up another win in net, The Wild scored 3 goals in 3:22, and 10 Minnesota payers had at least one point. Other than a slow stretch during the first 10 minutes of the second period the Wild played a solid game looking completely different from the team that got shutout by Ottawa Tuesday night. After the game in his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo praised Prosser who has been a scratch for many games this season saying, “He’s an unbelievable team guy and it wasn’t easy to scratch him. He’s a guy that has made the absolute most of his opportunity.”
That’s the problem with the Wild this season. They have a talented group of both young and veteran forwards, a solid group of defenders, and two veteran goalies with another just 4 hours away in Des Moines, Iowa. This group can take on and beat, if not outplay, any team in the league one night and then 48 hours later play a lackluster, uninspired, and lifeless game the next. That is why they are 4th in the Central Division and struggling to hang on to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. When Head Coach Mike Yeo, his coaching staff, and the players figure out how to put forth a consistent, inspired, and full effort each game then and only then will they be the Stanley Cup contending team they are built to be. As of tonight the Wild are 26-19-5 overall and an impressive 17-7-2 on home ice. Their 57 points sees them 8 points ahead of the 5th place Dallas Stars, Minnesota’s next opponent, in the Central Division. They are also 8 points behind the 3rd place Colorado Avalanche. Unless the Wild can get on a serious streak of consistently winning two thirds to three quarters of the games they play they are destined to end the regular season right where they are today, good but not good enough.
Thursday night the Wild looked good, very good in dismantling the Oilers. In the first period Minnesota opened the scoring at the 10:36 mark. Mikael Granlund came flying in behind the Oilers net and lifted the stick of Martin Marincin, taking the puck away and sliding a beautiful pass to Jason Pominville who gathered in the puck, cut to his left around Oilers net minder Ben Scrivens and buried the puck to take a 1-0 for the Wild. The first would be the only period that Edmonton would out shoot Minnesota and then by only 2 shots 9 to 7. Wild goal tender Darcy Kuemper started the game strong and shut out the Oilers for the opening 20 minutes. Edmonton looked to gain some momentum when Ryan Jones and Stephane Veilleux dropped the gloves for a brief fight that saw more wrestling than punching. Veilleux has become a staple on the fourth line since his call up from the Iowa Wild and the feisty winger has been using his speed and hitting ability well.
The second period was the worst period of the night for the Wild who couldn’t seem to get any momentum or sustained offensive pressure generated until late in the period. The Oilers tied the game at a goal each on a Jordan Eberle snipe that beat Kuemper up high on the glove side. Minnesota would finally figure out the Oiler defense and start to generate some good puck control offense as the period neared the fifteen minute mark. Then the Wild would strike three times in a 3:22 span to take the game from 1-1 to 4-1 and take all the volatility out of the Oil. Nate Prosser fired a big, heavy shot from the wall that found the back of the net making it a 2-1 game. The goal was the Elk River native’s first in 68 games dating back to last season. Just 1:12 later Justin Fontaine would give Minnesota a 2 goal lead as he poked home a rebound of a Kyle Brodziak shot. Fontaine’s 12th goal of the season has him ranked 3rd all time in goals by a Wild rookie and he still has 32 games left to play. The second period ended with the Wild on a roll and looking for more goals. Edmonton had gone from a tie game and sniffing an upset to rocking back on their heels and watching the game slip away yet again.
The Wild would not wait long to deliver the knock-out punch in the third period. Off the opening face off Dany Heatley and birthday boy Jason Zucker would toss the puck back and forth as they cruised in on net minder Scrivens with Zucker putting a wrister in the back of the net just 8 seconds into the final period. That is the fastest goal ever scored by a Wild player on home ice to start a period. It’s also Zucker’s 4th point in the 8 games since he was called up from Des Moines when the injury bug began to bite the Wild. The sellout crowd of 18, 037 roared approval of the Wild’s fourth goal of the night. Minnesota then went into lock down mode and allowed Edmonton just 5 shots for the entire third period and just 21 total for the game.
Once again the scoring for the Wild was spread out with 4 players recording goals. Jaosn Pominville would tally a goal and an assist giving him a team leading 19 goals for the season, his 33 points are just two back of Captain Mikko Koivu‘s 35. Charlie Coyle had 1 assist on the night giving him a total of 11 and 17 total points so far this season. The other Wild players with points tonight included third liners Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak with an assist each. Granlund had an assist with the pass the led to the games first goal while the lone Wild defenseman with a point tonight was Marco Scandella who had the second assist on Pominville’s goal in the first period.
Darcy Kumper has been playing like a man possessed in goal for Minnesota. Since his call up on January 2nd he has won 3 of 4 games, raised his season record to 3-2-0, dropped his goals against average to 2.17 and raised his save % to .917. His attitude and demeanor both on and off the ice have been humble and team first. I’m going to be sorry to see him go when he heads back to the Iowa Wild when Josh Harding returns to action. With Kuemper playing so well right now it takes a lot of pressure off of Harding and the Wild to rush the teams top net minder back into action.
Thursday evening fans got to see what a Wild team that’s firing on all cylinders looks like. When one area of the team’s game struggled for part of the game another was there to pick up the slack. When the offense struggled in the second period the defense and goal tending were there to carry the day. The offense spread out the scoring with goals coming from three of four lines and points from 10 players. This was a team win for the Wild. If we can see more games like Thursday and far fewer games like Tuesday the Wild have a chance to climb up a spot in the Division Standings past the Colorado Avalanche. Barring some sort of catastrophic collapse I don’t see the Wild catching the St. Louis Blues or Chicago Blackhawks who lead Minnesota by 12 and 14 points respectively in the Central Division race. Right now Minnesota is tied with the Vancouver Canucks for 7th place in the Western Conference. No matter whether the Wild finish 3rd in the division or take a Wild Card spot they will play either the Blues or Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That is 32 games off for the Wild. Thursday night they are winners and look ahead to Saturday and facing off against the Dallas Stars. I’ll be back Saturday morning with a preview of the nights action. Until then this is Scott Drain defiantly shouting into a howling January Minnesota wind, “LET’S GO WILD!!”