Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Minnesota Wild escaped the proverbial trap game, slipping past the flailing Toronto Maple Leafs. On the opening night of a back-to-back, Minnesota extended its franchise-best road win streak to nine games. It was also the Wild’s 21st win on the road this season, setting a team record.
The Wild could’ve looked ahead at the New York Islanders tomorrow night, but the club took care of business in Canada first. It won’t go down as the prettiest of victories, but still counts as two points in the standings. It’s only the second game the club has won in Toronto all time.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk started his 32nd straight game (counting one in Arizona), matching the most by a National Hockey League goalie since Jonas Hiller hit the number for consecutive starts for Anaheim, Jan. 12-March 18, 2012. The goalie was the story of the night — especially late, making 17 saves in the third — as he stopped 35 shots for his 23rd win in a Wild sweater. He’s been the talk of the season, not just in the State of Hockey, but also around the League (we’ll talk about the Toronto’s media coverage a little later).
Forward Thomas Vanek extended his point streak to eight games, currently the longest in the NHL and longest with the Wild this year. The Austrian had a goal and an assist. After a slow start, he’s a goal away from hitting 20, something he’s done every year in his NHL career.
There are a variety of tricks that a centerman will use to win a faceoff. A Center can try to win a draw back cleanly, sweeping the puck back before his opponent has a chance to react. He can tie up his adversary’s stick and try to use his own to win it back or use his skate to kick it to a teammate. Sometimes, a pivot will tell his wing to swing in behind him, as he moves forward and completely neutralizes his counterpart. On the faceoff that led to Charlie Coyle’s first period goal, I’m not sure what the center’s strategy was, but it worked like a charm.
Coyle jumped forward on the faceoff and stepped over the puck. Occasionally, a center will try to knock the puck forward and take it to the net, but this is typically only attempted on his strong side (right side for a righty). So, I don’t think Coyle was trying to take the puck to the crease because he was on the left side, even though he lurched forward on the draw. He might’ve been trying to tie up his opponent and allow Justin Fontaine to come into the circle and pick up the resting puck. Regardless, when he went forward he knocked down his counterpart, Trevor Smith, in the process. With Smith still getting up from his knees, Thomas Vanek took the puck to the net and Coyle slashed home the rebound for his 11th of the season. It might’ve been a broken play, but much like the choppiness of the game, worked out in the Wild’s favor.
What a difference a season makes. In today’s Lighthouse, I called the Air Canada Centre “one of the rowdiest crowds in the National Hockey League.” I based observation on last season, when the Leafs were red hot to start and skated to a 4-1 victory against the Wild on Oct. 15, 2013. Tonight’s Toronto crowd was a subdued like Jerry Seinfeld came over and served up a turkey dinner with plenty of heavy gravy and wine. Of course, there hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer for this season if you’re a Leafs fan. The much-maligned club has gone through a coaching change and has the fourth-worst record in the National Hockey League.
Of course, there is a silver lining to being among the League’s worst. Connor McDavid, the projected No. 1 prospect in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, is expected to be a franchise-changing, once-in-a-generation talent. Coincidentally, he is a Leafs fan and earlier this season said it would be a dream come true to play for the Blue and White. In another interview, he also said it’s been tough being a Leafs fan. Supporters of the team are totally fine with idea of Dishonor for Connor this year. If the season ended today, the Leafs would have a 9.5 percent chance of landing the first pick thanks to the NHL’s Draft Lottery. That’s a lot better odds than winning the Powerball. McDavid is projected to be a generational player, which for a Leafs fan might be a bigger payout if the club lands the first pick.
Maybe the Toronto crowd wasn’t that into this one because it was a bit of a sleepy affair through the first 36:54 of the contest. The intensity picked up when Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf finished a check on Erik Haula at the blue line. As Jared Spurgeon skated by Phaneuf, he gave him a little jab with the blade of his stick. The Toronto captain retaliated with a slash to the back of Spurgeon’s legs. Kyle Brodziak had seen enough, whacked Phaneuf and challenged him to drop the gloves. It looked like the Leafs blueliner didn’t want to go (the club was on the power play), but Brodziak didn’t give him much of a choice and the two engaged in a long dance.
Sometimes, in a sluggish game, a player will drop the gloves to not only fire up his teammates, but to get himself into the game. The Wild killed the rest of the penalty and both teams came out with more intensity in the third. I’m not trying to imply that the fight had an impact on the outcome of the game, but the club looked like it came into the third with a little more of an edge than the first two periods.
Toronto is the largest market in Canada and the media coverage surrounding the team is more intense than a Royal Wedding in England. While members of the Royal Family only get hitched every once in a while, the interest in the team is non-stop. Today, WildTV and dot com had to elbow our way into scrums around Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo and goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The netminder was the first player talking today and was still going when we packed up our interviews for the day and it didn’t look like it was slowing down any time soon.
Heck, the club has its own television channel LeafsTV, which fans in the area can subscribe to through their local cable providers. They broadcast live from the team’s morning skate (the Wild’s own Tom Reid was a guest, awesome) and had a live broadcast an hour and a half before puck drop. LeafsTV conducted a one-on-one interview with rookie blueliner, Matt Dumba, and included the package in the broadcast. Funny enough, the Leafs’ bench boss Peter Horachek, only spoke for 2:02 following morning skate and mostly answered questions about Dubnyk and the Wild. I suppose, even the most powerful media market North of the Border can only say the Leafs are having a tough season in so many ways.