Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 3-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.
Marco Scandella had his best and most active game this season. While the Wild juggled its defensive pairings, as always, his new partner may have been the key to what he was doing so well.
Scandella spent most of his night with Jonas Brodin, who has been excelling in his own end of late. Scandella's speed and length allows him to activate into the rush, and be aggressive at the offensive blue line, two things he did effectively on Saturday.
"[Scandella], whenever he's in the lineup, the guy is a beast," Matt Dumba said. "That second goal is a lot to do with him getting setup, and making a great shot, and [Fontaine], with a great tip.
"It's awesome to have [Scandella] back and playing his game."
The aggressiveness was on display early in the third period. A Scandella pinch turned into a slapshot at the blue line perfectly onto the stick of Justin Fontaine to make it 2-0 Wild (VIDEO), with Scandella picking up an assist.
"I'm really happy for him," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "It's been a tough go. We feel really bad for him, and obviously the ice time that he's missed and the time he's been away, that's tough."
In the first period, Scandella had five individual shot-attempts. His previous season-high for an entire game was six. Forty minutes later, Scandella had set a season-high with eight individual shot-attempts. On the game, Scandella had a plus-25 shot-attempt differential.
The puck possession the Wild was able to generate with Scandella on the ice limited what Colorado's big line of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon was able to do. When Scandella and Brodin were out against that top line—and they played against it more than any other Wild skaters—they not only funneled the puck into the Avalanche's end, they minimized the amount of defending they had to do.
All told, Scandella played 12:24 against MacKinnon, 12:58 against Landeskog, and 11:23 against Duchene, with shot-attempts percentages of 87.5, 88, and 86.4, respectively.
Brodin played 11:59 against MacKinnon, 12:16 against Landeskog, and 11:18 against Duchene, with shot-attempts percentages of 75, 75, and 73.9, respectively.
"We gave those guys a task of making sure they were on the ice against that line, and they really took it to heart, and they did a great job against them," Yeo said.
Dumba's response since Yeo challenged him prior to the Wild's game against the Dallas Stars a week ago has been very noticeable.
The offensive numbers jump out (two goals in four games) but as Yeo said after Dumba scored the lone goal in Minnesota's win against the Maple Leafs on Thursday, Dumba's defensive game has been much improved.
"If the shot is there, and the lane is there, and I can get my head up, I'm going to shoot," Dumba said after scoring the game-winner on Saturday. "If there are other options, I want to make those plays, too.
"But if the shot is there, I'm probably going to take it."
Yeo said the video showed Dumba playing on the right side of the puck, and when you watch his one-on-one's, Dumba’s positioning is affording him the chance to make plays with his stick on the puck, or attacking the puck-carrier physically.
"My defensive game has taken huge strides since I first got here to Minnesota when I was first drafted," Dumba said. "Now it's just making smart plays with the puck, and playing defense with the puck as well."
There's also been a patience to Dumba’s game. He said he's doing a better job of not taking risks, and attempting to make plays at the right time. It's cutting down on turnovers, and making Dumba’s defensive plays stand out.
"Just the reads that I'm making, and putting it in the right hands rather than forcing some plays—making simple plays, and it’s just helping my game," Dumba said.
After morning skate, Zach Parise said where the Wild has been successful against the Avalanche recently is having sustained shifts in their zone.
"And that should be something we're trying to do all night," he said.
From his words to the Xcel Energy Center ice, play was about as tilted as one could draw up. In the first period the Wild took 17 shots on goal, and had a 22-9 edge in shot-attempts. Every player on the Wild had a positive shot-attempts differential, meaning no matter who was on the ice for Minnesota, the puck was quite often in Colorado's end.
"We played a really tight game tonight, and the transition game was huge," Fontaine said. "We're getting it quick up, we're attacking fast, and we weren't making a lot of east-west plays.
"We were getting it low, and the F1 had a good forecheck, and that led to a lot of chances and shots tonight."
The lopsided play continued in the second period, when the Wild took nine shots on goal, and led in shot-attempts 24-12.
The Wild logged a season-high 44 shots on goal, and peppered Semyon Varlamov early and often, working the puck around the offensive zone with precision, and forcing the Avalanche to chase and expend energy in doing so.
"There are certain nights when your team is just going a certain way, and when you're standing behind the bench, and them on the bench, I know it gives a pretty good sense of confidence," Yeo said.
Some obvious concern for Devan Dubnyk regarding whatever injury caused him to leave the game.
During a television timeout with 9:05 remaining in the second period, Dubnyk exited the game with a lower-body injury, with Darcy Kuemper replacing him.
There's never a good time to get injured, but Dubnyk was in the midst of a stretch of having allowed one goal over seven-plus periods, going 2-0-0 with a shutout, and stopping 69 of 70 shots, with the lone goal-against coming on the power play.
"[Dubnyk] has an appointment tomorrow," Yeo said. "I don't expect it to be serious at all, but certainly don't see any reason why we would try to rush him back if he's not 100 percent."
Dubnyk had said after shutting out the Toronto Maple Leafs he had been refocusing on doing the little things well, and the results had obviously been going his way.
In relief, Kuemper made nine saves to bridge the way to the victory, and the shutout.
"The ones that [Kuemper] had to save, he saved, and controlled his rebounds," Yeo said. "He did a good job, and look composed and confident coming into a situation that could be a little bit tense."
The best medicine for a three-game losing streak? How about a three-game winning streak.
Not only has the Wild answered one of its tougher stretches this season with a trio of wins, it did it picking up two in the Central Division, and allowing one goal along the way.
Most importantly these have all felt like "Minnesota Wild wins" in terms of the identity of the games. The Wild executed in the neutral zone, ate up time in the offensive zone with lengthy shifts, and an organized defensive effort that limited quality chances against. On those one-off moments when the opposing team got a good opportunity, either Dubnyk or Kuemper was there to close the door.