Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes:
The Minnesota Wild looked like a thoroughbred in the gate at the Kentucky Derby tonight: caged, rearing and foaming at the mouth to start the race. The team has been practicing more than a concert pianist lately, playing only four games through two weeks of the season. After losing a pair of games it could’ve won during its recent West Coast roadie, the club was chomping at the bit to get back on track.
The anticipation might’ve been a reason the contest looked like a match of Pong on a sugar high before settling down into a hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes. The Wild calmed down in the second period, scoring twice and it was more than enough for Darcy Kuemper. The goaltender made 26 saves for his third shutout of the season, a new career high. Oh, yeah, did I mention it was only the Wild’s fifth game of the season?
The first period of tonight’s contest could’ve been the fastest period of hockey I’ve ever seen, both literally and figuratively. Real time, the period took less than a half hour. In the middle of the first, there was a stretch of 6:24 without a whistle, as the teams played fire-wagon hockey racing up and down the ice. Live tweeting the game, I felt like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction after a she took a shot of adrenaline to the heart.
There was so much back-and-forth play the goaltenders wanted to get in on the action. Yotes netminder Mike Smith is known for wandering out of his net to play the puck. It nearly cost him as he ventured into the corner and ran into Wild forward Justin Fontine. Smith recovered in time to make a kick save on a Nino Niederreiter wraparound attempt. On the other end, Kuemper was getting adventurous, too. The goaltender stopped a Coyotes dump in, and with a pair of forwards bearing down on him, fired the puck up the guts, the length of the sheet for an icing.
The race continued in the second period, with the Wild finally making some headway on the scoreboard…
Net-front presence. That was the theme of the week for Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo and the rest of the team. After scoring only two goals last week on its Pacific Coast roadie after generating an ocean of chances, the Wild wanted to crash the crease tonight. Charlie Coyle did that all night and was rewarded in the second period, tipping home a Jared Spurgeon point shot for his second of the season.
The big-bodied wing was placed on a line with Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek this week. Coyle’s task was to help create offense for Koivu and Vanek by getting in on the forecheck and getting to the paint. Well, he created offense for himself tonight, as the puck moved to Spurgeon at the point, the 22-year-old went to the front of the net and redirected the puck past Smith.
Yesterday, Coyle signed a five-year extension with Minnesota to keep him in the State of Hockey through the 2020 season. Looks like the contract didn’t change anything and knowing Coyle, it won’t. When asked if he’d splurge on anything, the Weymouth, Mass., native said he hadn’t thought about it, but would probably just stick to his normal routine. It was a pretty standard answer for Coyle, who today went about tonight’s game as business as usual.
Tonight, Spurgeon was more active than an ant at an unattended picnic. On Coyle’s goal, the defenseman led the rush, swooped behind the net and got back into position at the point to get open for a shot.
On the game’s second goal, he again led the rush. Spurgeon carried the puck with speed through the neutral zone and across the offensive blue line. He moved the biscuit to Zach Parise on the boards and rushed to the net. As he went to the goal, he drove two Coyotes defenders with him. This opened up the high slot, which Jason Pominville filled and Parise found him. Pomiville used the screen created by Spurgeon and Arizona’s defensemen and beat Smith with a snap shot, low to the blocker side.
Spurgeon might be the Wild’s smallest player in stature, but has played a big game this season. He’s been creating offense from the back end and timely jumping into plays when an opportunity arises.
Fans might’ve noticed the lavender dashers on the boards as they entered Xcel Energy Center tonight. The Wild hosted Hockey Fights Cancer Night, the National Hockey League’s initiative to raise funds and awareness of the disease. Minnesota took the ice in warmups with lavender sweaters, and Wild coaches and broadcasters wore special Hockey Fights Cancer ties and pins.
Fans got in on the act too, as they were given “I Fight For” placards as they entered the arena. During the second period, fans displayed their personalized cards in tribute. WildTV caught the moment and you can see it, here.