Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-0 win against the Nashville Predators:
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Wild brought a complete effort in its dismantling of the Predators. The team fought off heavy legs, took care of the puck and finished on its chances to earn a much-needed two points. It was the team’s third straight road win.
A number of players stepped up tonight, including a couple of players who each notched their second-straight multi-point games (we’ll get to them). The blue line put in a solid effort controlling its gaps, which limited Nashville’s chances and led to transition offense.
Of course, Darcy Kuemper was stellar in his second outing since being recalled, earning his first-career shutout by making 23 saves. The netminder wasn’t tested much in the first period, but stood tall in the second and third. His best save came late in the third, retaining the shutout by making a huge kick save. The goaltender made an initial save, but the rebound came out to former Wild center Matt Cullen. The veteran chipped a backhand and looked to have a sure goal, but Kuemper kicked his left leg for a pad save.
In yesterday’s Takeaways, we talked about the chemistry forming between linemates Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley. For the second game in a row, they both had two-point nights. Tonight, Jason Zucker wanted to get in on the action, too.
The trio got the Wild off to a fast start scoring twice in the first period. Both goals came on the rush on pretty passing plays. First, defenseman Ryan Suter jumped into the play and slid an entry pass to Heatley, who made a veteran play by redirecting the puck through his legs to a trailing Coyle. You can bet Coyle was calling for the puck, because it was a no-look tip that was dropped into an area where the center could pick it up. After the drop pass, Heatley broke to the net and Coyle returned it to him for a redirection past Predators netminder Marek Mazanec. It was Heatley’s ninth goal of the season.
Two minutes later, Heatley set up Zucker’s goal with another veteran pass. The pair rushed in on a 2-on-1 with Heater on the right side. He dropped his shoulder, froze the defender and netminder, and then slid it over to Zucker, who finished for the third time in six games. Heatley made the play by opening up on his forehand and was in position to either shoot or pass. The netminder and defenseman had to respect a possible shot, and when he dropped his shoulder, it opened up a lane to Zucker.
As a whole, the Wild did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone and transitioning to offense. When Minnesota is at its best, the team jams the middle of the ice in the neutral zone and at the blue lines. The club filters opponents to the outside, creates turnovers then moves the puck quickly the other way. That’s the way the team scored both of its first period goals.
On Heatley’s goal, the wing picked off an errant pass at the defensive-zone blue line by placing his stick in the passing lane and led the rush the other way. On Zucker’s goal, Coyle had the puck in the neutral zone, tried to flip it deep but fanned on it and it went to Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis. However, Coyle stuck with the play, knocking down the puck when Ellis tried to chip it past him, and fed it to Heatley breaking the other way.
In the first period, the team gained momentum after a big penalty kill. In fact, shortly after killing a too many men penalty, the Wild scored its first goal of the game.
Minnesota’s penalty kill has been much improved of late. Coming into the game, the Wild had killed 18 of 20 power play opportunities over an eight game stretch. The team has been very disciplined during the stretch, not taking many penalties and allowing an opponent four power plays in a single game only once.
Tonight, the team was 2-for-2 shorthanded and didn’t allow many Nashville opportunities, only giving up two shots while a man down. The team has not allowed opponents clean entries and has kept pucks on the perimeter when they do gain the zone.
Jonathon Blum skated against his former team tonight, the Predators, after signing with Minnesota during the summer. Nashville selected the blueliner in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. But unlike a more publicized former Pred who signed as a free agent with Minnesota, Ryan Suter, the Smashville faithful didn’t feel the need to boo Blum each time he touched the puck.
Blum skated in 91 games with the Preds from 2010-13, recording 22 points (7-15=22). The blueliner won’t dazzle anyone with flash, but he’s played a steady game since being recalled from Iowa. He keeps the game simple and doesn’t make high-risk plays.