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 4-0 win against the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center.
Without Zach Parise, and now without Marco Scandella, more changes to the Wild power play. Its latest iteration featured Jason Pominville on the point opposite Ryan Suter, with Thomas Vanek in front.
And it worked. Twice.
"That was a good call by [assistant coach Andrew Brunette] before the game," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Just making an adjustment there as far as the way things have looked lately."
From his new position, Pominville fired a shot that created a rebound in front, likely due to the screen Vanek was setting. Vanek nearly curled and stuffed in the rebound, but was stopped by Pekka Rinne.
Still on the puck, Vanek bounced it off the boards to Mikael Granlund, who got it back to Suter. With Pominville flanking him, Suter deked like he was going to give the puck to Pominville, drawing his defender into the passing lane, and giving Suter space to walk into a shot that beat Rinne (VIDEO) through a Vanek screen.
"It was something different," Vanek said of the setup. "The key was that [Granlund] did a great job of contributing the puck, and passing it low a little bit, and giving me a chance to make plays. That opened up a lot more."
Everyone's niche played a role in the goal. Pominville's initial, effective shot caused the Nashville penalty killer to jump the passing lane when Suter faked his pass, Vanek's net-front presence created havoc throughout the entire shift, and Suter got his shot through and on-goal, scoring his fourth of the season.
On the Wild's second power-play goal, Pominville fired a shot-pass onto Vanek's tape, he deflected it on goal, and then pushed home his own rebound (VIDEO).
When the Wild's play stagnated on the road, Yeo invoked the word 'flow.' Minnesota is a team that plays with pace, and that can generally be seen in its transition-game. The flow was back on Saturday.
Part of what affected that flow was the Wild giving up the first goal in each of its past four games. On Saturday, it was the Wild that struck first.
"It's hard when you're chasing," Suter said. "You're down by a goal, and you just feel like you're battling. To have the lead and play with the lead, it's a lot easier to play.
"We were just on, finally. It's been a while."
Everything about the Wild's breakouts was crisper, and from a bird's eye perspective, one could see it materializing. The Wild was quicker in its decision making with and without the puck. When possession was won back in the defensive zone, it wasn't just the puck carrier who made quick decisions. His teammates without the puck skated into space to create outlets, and help on exits.
"We had a better trust in our game," Yeo said. "Trust in going out and doing the right things. Sometimes it happens in the first five minutes, and sometimes it takes a lot longer than that to get that first goal."
Christian Folin made two very smart hockey plays to help put the Wild up 2-0.
With Granlund circling behind the Wild's goal, Folin was in his spot on right defense. Granlund ran into two Nashville skaters on the sideboards, and after getting a bump from Suter, who threw the puck toward center ice, Folin took off.
He had recognized a chance to create an odd-man rush as the trailer, and turned a three-on-two into a four-on-two. With Granlund driving the center lane, it opened up a pass for Pominville to Folin, who followed by taking a perfect shot-pass into the pads off Rinne, putting the rebound on a platter for Granlund (VIDEO).
Some shutouts are stolen by the winning goalie. Devan Dubnyk played well on Saturday, but whoever the five guys in red sweaters were in front of him did whatever they could to make his night easier.
"I find quite often a really good sign for [Dubnyk] and how good he's going to be in the night is his puck play is so strong, too," Yeo said. "How he retrieves pucks, and quite often that helps us to give up fewer shots, and get out of our zone quicker."
Nashville took 23 shots, and only five in the third period when it was mostly chasing a four-goal deficit. Sprinkled in were some decent opportunities, but Minnesota did a good job of keeping Nashville to the outside, and giving Dubnyk some pretty clear sightlines at the shots he did face.
"You look at our play in the other end, and it has a lot to do with the play in our own end," Dubnyk said. "We're not chasing, we had great support for the entire night, and the guys just worked to get on top of the puck.
"When we're doing that—we were just talking about it after—it's fun to watch, and we're tough to play."
Much of the battle was won in the neutral zone, where the Wild made things difficult for the visitors by taking away time and space.
"It’s a game that the blueprint of it looked a lot more like the way our game should look identity-wise, and feel-wise from the bench," Yeo said.
Vanek had a goal and an assist, and played one of his best games of the season.
His vision and creativity were on display often, not to mention Vanek was a menace in front of the net.
"Thomas, it's funny, obviously losing the last couple of games on the road trip gives us kind of bad taste of the way things have gone lately," Yeo said. "But before that, we've won some games here, and he's been a huge part of that."
There were the near-goals, ones that had fans oohing and aahing. On a Wild power play in the second period, Vanek curled below the goal line, only to send a pass back in the direction he came from on the stick of Koivu, who was robbed by Rinne.
"I felt great today," Vanek said. "I thought I was making good plays."
Seconds later, Vanek fired a cross-ice pass to Granlund, and nearly tipped home a return feed atop the crease.
"It was one of those nights where I wanted the puck a lot. I always do, but today I got it a lot, and I felt like I was making things happen and making plays.
He had nine individual shot-attempts at all strengths—three on goal—and consistently put his teammates in good positions to score.