The Minnesota Wild shutout the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night at Rexall Place. The Wild looked like a team ready to play while the Oilers looked slow and disinterested. Minnesota picked up goals from three players and assists from six more. That’s how to spread the scoring around. Wild rookie net minder Darcy Kuemper picked up his second shutout of the season and his third straight victory. His record now stands at 9-3-2 on the season with a fantastic .921 save percentage and a goals against of 2.29. He faced 21 shots in the game and had several top notch saves to keep the Oilers off the score sheet. The Wild scored the first goal of the game just over 2 minutes into the 1st period on a wrist shot by Mikael Granlund that would prove to be the game winner. Zach Parise made a nice pass across the slot to Granlund who found himself with a yawning open net after Edmonton goalie Ben Scrivens couldn’t get across the The Oilers defenders didn’t help matters any when they failed to cover Granlund as he skated to an open area in the left circle before unleashing his shot. The Wild would add goals by Stephane Veilleux and Dany Heatley to complete the scoring. This was the first game back from the Olympic Break for both teams and Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo liked what he saw for the most part saying, “I was impressed with the structure and the detail in a lot of areas. I think our puck work could get a little better in some areas too.” In twelve NHL games played Thursday night the Minnesota Wild were the only team to record a shutout, a testament to their fine defensive effort in extending their win streak to 3 games.
The Wild played much of the game with five defensemen after injuries to Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner left Coach Yeo with just 5 defensemen on the bench for much of the 1st and second periods. Nate Prosser was sent to the locker room after a dirty hit from behind by the Oilers Matt Hendricks less than a minute into the game. Prosser was sent face first into the glass and looked dazed after the hit with blood dripping from his chin. He was helped from the ice and missed the remainder of the opening frame. He returned to the bench to start the second period to the surprise of his teammates and fans sporting stitches on his chin but no apparent head injury. Then a little over midway through the second period Clayton Stoner dropped the gloves and fought Oilers tough guy Luke Gazdic. After the bout Stoner skated to the bench with the ring finger on his left hand sticking out sideways at an impossible angle. The fear was that he had broken the finger but, that was not the case. It was a dislocation that trainers were able to pop back into place and tape up allowing Stoner to return to action in the third period. Outside of the injuries the Wild defenders had a good evening. Jared Spurgeon had a pair of goal saving plays on the night the first coming when a shot hit Kuemper and dropped into the crease area. The Wild D-man swooped in and cleared the puck out of harms way through Kuempers legs. He also had a big play in the third period when he ran down the Oilers on a break away and prevented a scoring chance, maintaining the shut out for the Wild. Leading defenseman Ryan Suter was immediately back to his minute munching ways recording 29:40 in ice time while picking up two shots on goal. The rest of the Minnesota defensive corps played well as pairing were juggled through out the game as the Wild had just 5 defensemen on the bench for half the contest. Minnesota Coach Yeo liked the play of the Wild’s defenders saying, “I thought our guys had a real good focus defending tonight and doing it the right way.”
Stephane Veilleux and Dany Heatley would score the Wild’s second and third goals. Veilleux scored on a slap shot 9:37 into the second period. The goal was his second of the season with the assists going to Erik Haula and Nate Prosser. Tha marker gave the Wild a bit of breathing room as shots were hard to come by for both teams. The two squads had 6 apiece each in the first period, 10 in the second and 5 each in the third period for a total of just 21 shots on goal each for the game. Heatley would score the final goal of the night some 9:29 into the final stanza. Charlie Coyle worked the puck behind the net and made a pass across the crease that Heatley, while on his knees, put over the outstretched leg of Oilers goalie Scrivens for the score. That gives Heatley 12 on the season to go with 13 assists for 25 points on the season. Coyle and Niederreiter picked up assists on the play giving them 13 and 19 respectively.
Overall the Wild played a good but not great game in their first contest after the Olympic Break. They face a much tougher challenge Friday night when they battle the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver. Look for Darcy Kuemper to be in net for the Wild once again. When asked about the starting goaltender for Friday Wild Coach Yeo replied, “A shutout usually gives you a pretty good chance of starting the next game.” Minnesota now has 22 games in 45 days to close out the regular season. Those contests are evenly split with 11 each road and home. The majority (14) of those games will be against Western Conference foes. With this win the Wild now trail the Colorado Avalanche by 8 points in the race for 3rd in the Central Division. In the race for the top Wild Card spot in the standings the Wild have a 5 point lead over the Dallas Stars and a 6 point lead over the Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes.
Every game is important, every point is a must have as the Wild head toward the playoffs. They had a good start with Friday’s shutout of Edmonton. The team needs to keep focused and play to their strengths avoiding track meets and penalty plagued outings that have given the Wild problems earlier this season. Winning on the road is a must as well as Minnesota is still below .500 away from the Xcel Energy Center. As Head Coach Mike Yeo is fond of saying it’s time to forget about Edmonton and focus on getting ready for Vancouver. Looking at the next game and not beyond is important for a Wild team that has struggled with inconsistent play at times during the 2013-14 season. I’ll be back with a preview of Wild vs Canucks Friday Morning. Until then enjoy this Wild victory and the two points it brings. Until next time this is Scott Drain victoriously shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!!!”