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 5-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild's lines are in something of a trial-and-error stage without the services of Zach Parise, Justin Fontaine, and Tyler Graovac.
During the second period against Winnipeg, Head Coach Mike Yeo decided to move Thomas Vanek onto a line with Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund.
And it worked.
Whether it was a direct result of playing with the two new forwards, Vanek scored two goals on his second and third shifts respectively after the switch, and showed why he is a career 300-goal scorer.
"The way that Thomas was going (in the first period), it felt like an easy switch," Yeo said.
On his first goal, Vanek leaked out of the zone and took a home run pass from Christian Folin in stride, and blasted a slap shot past Ondrej Pavelec.
"It's a shot that I feel like I can hit pretty good," Vanek said. "Coming in from somewhat on the right, middle, I feel like I'm pretty good at hitting that spot, so I went for it."
Vanek's second goal was all-world, as he dragged the puck from behind, through his own legs, and through Paul Postma, before catching up to it, and roofing it for goal number two. The goals were scored 5:34 apart.
"It was kind of a one-on-one opportunity, I had pretty good speed through the neutral zone, so I just tried something, and obviously it worked out well," Vanek said.
When he was reinserted into the lineup on Saturday, Yeo said Folin brings execution to the lineup.
Yeo said he liked Folin's game after the Wild defeated Tampa Bay 1-0 on Saturday, and Folin's game on Tuesday was even better.
"Both him and (Nate) Prosser were very good for us tonight," Yeo said.
On his assist on Vanek's first goal, while Vanek snuck ahead of the pack and created space for himself, Folin put the headman pass right on his tape, and did so from a position where most defenseman may have opted to go a different route.
Folin had possession just below the faceoff dot, and just as he was about to make a play up the boards, noticed Vanek all alone. Re-watch the play: you can literally see the moment Folin spotted Vanek, changed his mind, and rifled the 100-foot pass.
"I saw him right when they shot the puck in," Folin said. "I kind of saw him in the corner of my eye taking off, and I just spun around, and took a look, and ripped it at him."
If Folin is playing with his head down, or simply rushing to move the puck, he makes a play before Vanek is clear ahead. But Folin was patient, and calm, and turned a defensive-zone breakout into a goal.
Matching up against an aggressive, bruising Winnipeg team, the Wild will always use its speed to counteract what the Jets can do.
Like a wide receiver being covered by a corner that can't keep up with him, Minnesota played a vertical, north-south game and dared the Jets to keep up. And on a number of occasions, Winnipeg couldn’t.
Some examples were obvious: On Vanek's first goal, and Erik Haula's shorthanded goal, the Wild got clean breakaways.
But on Nino Niederreiter's game-opening goal, the Mikko Koivu line buzzed around the zone, jumping in-and-out of spots along the wall, keeping one step ahead of Winnipeg, and eventually, turning the shift into a goal.
The Wild's speed was apparent all night long, whether it was in the neutral zone, on the cycle, or on the backcheck, spelling any Jets' chances in transition.
"That was just the message to the group before the game, and that's kind of the game plan when we play them, and going forward that's what it has to be," Yeo said. "They're a pressure team, they're in your face a lot … and for us, with our foot-speed, we felt that if we could get some pucks behind their [defense] then we could take advantage of some of those situations."
Playing in his NHL debut on Tuesday, Kurtis Gabriel was asked to bring his physical style of play, but do so in a way that fit into the Wild's blueprint, and was a benefit, not a detriment to his team.
That he did.
Gabriel created a good opportunity early, getting in quickly on the forecheck and sending Mark Stuart into the boards before sending a puck through the crease that just missed connecting with Chris Porter.
Later in the first, Gabriel took care of business in his own zone, corralling a loose puck in the high slot and moving it up to a teammate at the blue line to exit the zone.
"I thought he did a good job tonight," Yeo said.
Then in the second, Gabriel did something he said he was ready to do if the situation arose: he dropped the gloves. His first NHL fight wasn't an easy one, matched up against Chris Thorburn, who already had 83 NHL fights to his resume, and Gabriel more than held his own in a fight that went to the scorecard.
And not for nothing, but the Wild scored four goals in 10:40 immediately following Gabriel's fight.
"We kind of saw it coming the whole game," Haula said. "It was just a matter of time of when it was going to happen. It was awesome, him coming up, and stepping up like that, and playing a good game in general. It's exactly what's expected."
The Wild allowed three power-play goals on its first five shorthanded chances this season. Since then, the Wild has killed off 21 of 25 penalties, scoring one fewer shorthanded goal (three) than power play goals it has allowed.
It was always too early to indict a penalty kill after five shorthanded opportunities, and Minnesota is back to its old penalty killing standards, and doing so while creating some offensive looks as well.