After starting the game Tuesday on the third line, Fontaine made coach Mike Yeo's adjustment look brilliant. The rookie scored the game-winning goal with 1:04 left in the second period, and the Wild won 2-0 against the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center.
A prolific scorer in college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and last season in the American Hockey League, Fontaine has the pedigree to play in the NHL. But through his first nine games with the Wild, he has been used mainly as an energy guy on the third and fourth lines.
With the Wild struggling to score again, despite holding a massive edge in shots on goal and offensive-zone time, Yeo was looking for a spark. Fontaine provided it.
"We were definitely carrying a lot of pressure," Fontaine said. "We shook things up a little bit, ended up getting a rebound. It felt good to give a little bit of a spark."
The goal was crucial for the Wild, who played a brilliant defensive game even though they were down a defenseman for 57 minutes after second-year player Jonas Brodin took a Gabriel Bourque dump-in attempt to the face early in the first period. Brodin was taken to the hospital but no update was provided following the game.
After outshooting the Predators 13-3 in the first period, Minnesota held Nashville without a shot for a stretch of more than 10 minutes in the second but couldn't grab the lead.
The Wild, who ended a three-game losing streak, were coming off a road trip in which they scored five goals in four games and went 1-2-1; they have allowed the fewest shots in the NHL.
"It was a little tense [on the bench]," Yeo said.
Already without Brodin, the Wild appeared to be in trouble late in the first period when defenseman Marco Scandella took a Shea Weber blast from the point off his foot. After getting back to the bench, Scandella went directly down the tunnel but returned in the second period.
Minnesota was down to four defensemen again in the third period when Predators forward Eric Nystrom fought Nate Prosser. Seconds afterward, Matt Cooke took a tripping penalty, putting the Wild's 28th-ranked penalty kill to the test. But as they had all night, the Wild passed with flying colors.
The Predators had their best chance in the final minute when former Wild forward Matt Cullen tried banking a puck off goaltender Josh Harding. The puck sat perilously in the crease before Jared Spurgeon was able to knock it away.
Minnesota skated the puck out of the zone, and Jason Pominville scored an empty-net goal with 24.7 seconds remaining.
"I definitely owe [Spurgeon] one there," Harding said.
Harding, the NHL leader in save percentage (.953) and goals-against average (0.96), stopped 16 shots for his eighth career shutout. He is 3-0-0 with a 0.67 GAA in home starts this season. In his past nine starts at Xcel Energy Center, Harding has three shutouts.
"I can't take the credit for this one," Harding said. "If you watch the replays or the whole game over again, you can't say enough about what the D-men did, what the forwards did. That was as sound a game … breaking the puck out, blocking shots, good sticks. … This isn't me, this is for sure a team shutout."
Nashville's previous low for shots in a game was 25.
"They've only given up five 5-on-5 goals this season, so we knew they're not going to give you a lot of shots," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We didn't manage the puck very well, we lost too many battles."
Nashville, which had won four of its previous five games and earned at least a point in all five, heads home after a 2-1-0 road trip against the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota.
Rinne made 27 saves, including several close-in chances with the Wild on the power play in the first period to keep the game 0-0.
"We just didn't come out with a lot of energy tonight," Trotz said. "We hung around there and almost got a … point there at the end, which we didn't deserve."
The Wild continue with the second of a six-out-of-seven game stretch at home Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
|Zenon Konopka Fighting (maj) against Rich Clune|
|Rich Clune Fighting (maj) against Zenon Konopka|
|Shea Weber Cross checking against Zach Parise|
|Ryan Ellis Cross checking against Nino Niederreiter|
|Justin Fontaine Tripping against Viktor Stalberg|
|Eric Nystrom Fighting (maj) against Nate Prosser|
|Nate Prosser Fighting (maj) against Eric Nystrom|
|Matt Cooke Hooking against Craig Smith|