NASHVILLE -- It certainly appears as if playing with a pair of 21-year-olds is helping to rejuvenate Dany Heatley, who will soon turn 33.
Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper made 23 saves to earn his first career shutout and second win in four appearances (2-1-0) this season.
Heatley said he got off to a slow start this season due to a surgical procedure on his left shoulder that prematurely ended his 2012-13 season last April. Playing with Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker and developing chemistry with the youngsters has helped pick up his level of play, he said.
Heatley went the first 10 games of the season without a goal as coach Mike Yeo moved him from line to line, but he has nine goals after he scored in the first period against Nashville on Sunday. His emergence has meant a lot to the Wild, especially with the team short top-six forwards Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise due to injury.
Heatley feels he is playing his best hockey of the season.
"I think it's also the first time we've had a couple of guys we've played steady together for more than a game or two," he said. "Like I said, that chemistry's a big deal and it's going good right now."
Coyle laughed as he told a story about growing up and having Heatley's hockey card from his days with the Ottawa Senators, back when Heatley recorded back-to-back 50-goal seasons.
"I have a box of hockey cards that I bought a few years ago," Coyle said. "He's on the cover of it. I still have it at my house, I think, in my room. I haven't told him that yet. My mom reminds me every now and then."
Both of Heatley's points came in the first period Sunday. Minnesota took advantage of a turnover by Nashville left wing Viktor Stalberg, who entered the game minus-12, in the offensive zone to score its first goal.
With the rush going the other way, Coyle shot from the high slot and Heatley redirected it past Nashville goalie Marek Mazanec at 12:03 of the first period.
"We heard from the bench, so we had an odd-man rush," Heatley said. "Chuckie made a great play, and it was a pretty easy one."
Heatley set up the Wild's second goal 2:12 after he had scored to put Minnesota ahead 1-0. He skated down the right wing on a 2-on-1 and zipped a pass to Zucker through a tight window, enabling the young left wing to convert his third goal.
Minnesota (25-18-5) improved to 5-1-0 in its past six games. Nashville (19-21-7), which is 1-3-3 in its past seven, fell 10 points behind Minnesota for eighth place in the Western Conference.
The Wild did a strong job limiting Nashville's chances in front of Kuemper. One of the goalie's best stops came in the form of a glove save on a backhander from former Wild forward Matt Cullen on a surprisingly dangerous 2-on-2 situation in the second period. In the third period, Kuemper again robbed Cullen by going across the crease and using his left pad to blunt Cullen's attempt at converting a cross-ice pass.
"Obviously, shutouts are always fun and to get one at the highest level is a pretty cool experience, but if you watched how the guys played in front of me, I let a few rebounds go but made it a little tough on them," Kuemper said. "But they did a great job in front of me and made my job easy."
Minnesota killed the only penalty it faced, and Nashville, which has the NHL's No. 7 power play, went a fourth straight game without a goal with the man advantage (0-for-8 over that span). The Predators have one power-play goal in their past seven games.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz lamented the team's lack of practice time, and believes some extra work will improve the power play. That won't happen Monday, when the Predators have an off day. Having played Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and with a game Tuesday against the Calgary Flames, the Predators will have had one practice (last Wednesday) before their next one rolls around this coming Wednesday.
"When you don't have a chance to practice, your practice sometimes happens by getting opportunities on the power play," Trotz said. "We haven't had a lot of them lately, so, just like anything, I know when we practice, we're always a better team because we go over details."
Minnesota scored two goals in the third period. With Mazanec scrambling around his net after a series of shots, Matt Cooke tapped in a goal at 1:14 to make it 3-0.
Wild defenseman Marco Scandella completed the scoring at 10:16. He flipped a shot off a faceoff win through a screen that fluttered over Mazanec's glove.
Predators fans again showered former Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter with boos every time he touched the puck. Suter, playing in Nashville for the third time since signing with the Wild as a free agent in July 2012, had the secondary assist on the team's first goal.
"A simple game is how we're successful," said Suter, who logged 28:42 of ice time and finished plus-2. "We were able to get the pucks in and get the forechecks going. We got a lot of pucks to the net. Nothing fancy and that's how we have to play games right now."
|Dany Heatley (9) ASST: Charlie Coyle (9), Ryan Suter (25)|
1 - 0 MIN
|Jason Zucker (3) ASST: Dany Heatley (8), Charlie Coyle (10)|
2 - 0 MIN
|Matt Cooke (6) ASST: Justin Fontaine (5), Kyle Brodziak (10)|
3 - 0 MIN
|Marco Scandella (3) ASST: Nino Niederreiter (16), Mikael Granlund (16)|
4 - 0 MIN
|Nino Niederreiter Too many men/ice - bench|
|Paul Gaustad Fighting (maj) against Clayton Stoner|
|Clayton Stoner Fighting (maj) against Paul Gaustad|
|Matt Hendricks Roughing against Ryan Suter|
|Clayton Stoner Hooking against Craig Smith|