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 overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets:
Since the Jets relocated to Winnipeg, the team has been the Minnesota Wild’s closest rival both in physical distance and on the score sheet. Coming into the contest, nine of the 10 meetings between the teams were decided by a single goal (the Jets scored an empty netter in a 6-4 on Dec. 27, 2013). So, it’s no surprise tonight’s matchup between neighbors would be a close one, as they skated beyond regulation for the third time this season.
With the Wild playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the club relied on a big effort from goaltender Devan Dubnyk (more on him in a moment) until it was able to get its legs in the second period. Overall, the contest was a classic goaltender’s duel with Dubnyk and Winnipeg netminder Michael Hutchinson trading let’s-see-if-you-can-top-that-one saves. Dubnyk ended the game with 32 saves, only allowing a goal that was redirected off the stick of Nino Niederreiter and a perfect shot in overtime.
Although the club only came away with a single point, it earned it after a sluggish start. Minnesota does drop a point to the Jets (now seven back), but it still has three games in hand against Winnipeg. Minnesota also takes over sole position of ninth in the Western Conference playoff picture and has a one-point cushion on both the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars.
Coming into the second game in back-to-back nights, the question was whether or not Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would give Devan Dubnyk would get a breather in favor of Darcy Kuemper, who was recalled from a conditioning stint with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild. Before the game, we learned the Wild would indeed ride the hot hand and Dubnyk would get his 11th start in a row. Any question of goaltender fatigue was quickly put to rest, as the netminder made 15 saves in the opening period and singlehandedly kept the Wild in the game’s early going.
Dubnyk’s best save in the opening period set the tone for the game. With the Jets on the power play, Winnipeg’s leading goal scorer, Bryan Little, found open ice near the left faceoff dot. After a scramble in front of the Wild net, puck slid into Little’s wheelhouse and it looked like the forward had an empty cage to pop it into. The Winnipeg forward flung a high shot and Dubnyk seemingly came out of nowhere to make a diving blocker save.
The Wild was without Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker tonight and will be for the foreseeable future. Zucker will undergo surgery to repair a broken clavicle on Thursday and is expected to miss three months. Carter suffered an upper-body injury and will be out for at least a month. Losing two forwards in the same game was a significant blow, as both contributed to the team’s penalty kill. Zucker was coming into his own offensively, finding a grove alongside Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. His speed in in transition will be missed, as will his ability to fire shots on the fly. Carter is a consistent checker on the team’s fourth line who brings a physical element and his night-in, night-out reliability will be tough to replace.
With two forward spots open, Justin Fontaine re-entered the lineup after missing four games with a groin injury and the club recalled Brett Sutter from its American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa. Sutter will be asked to kill penalties and bring the physical play, while Fontaine looks to add the scoring touch from his rookie season.
With the Wild down two of its regulars and unable to find a rhythm in the opening period, Yeo started to shuffle the forward lines. We saw a number of throwback combinations. Charlie Coyle was moved back to the wing alongside Zach Parise and Koivu. The trio skated together for most of Coyle’s rookie season two years ago, but with the Weymouth native moving to center, it’s a combo we haven’t seen in a while. Last season’s Graninoville line was arranged as Mikael Granlund was placed between Niederreiter and Pominville. A combo that has seen some action this season: the Gopher Line of Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder and Thomas Vanek.
The second-period tinkering sparked a much better effort from the club. After getting outshot in the opening frame, 15-8, the Wild came back to fire 13 shots compared to the Jets’ eight. The Wild had a number of high-quality shots, but Hutchinson was up to the task.
The third period saw more movement, as Koivu, Parise and Pominville skated as a unit and Granlund, Coyle and Niederreiter were used as a unit. The team finally broke through, as a good forecheck from Parise led to a turnover and a Pominville one-time goal.
Minnesota native, Dustin Byfuglien, has spent time in his career at both forward and defense. Tonight, he lined up on the wing, which is a little strange to see because Byfuglien was selected to the National Hockey League All-Star Game in Columbus as a defenseman. For the past four games, he’s been moved to forward with the Jets’ blue line getting healthy and the need for offense with the Evander Kane wet-track-suit saga (Google it).
Offensively, he’s effective at both positions. Sunday against the Avs, Byfuglien posted a three point (1-2=3) against the Avs. When the Jets are on the power play, Byfuglien moves back to the point, as the club utilizes his big shot from the blue line. Of course, he ended the game in overtime on a pretty amazing shot from a bad angle going post and in. There aren’t many players in hockey, let alone the NHL, that can switch so seamlessly and effectively between forward and defense as Byfuglien.