Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres:
One game doesn't make a season, and neither do a couple of weeks. In an 82-game season, it’s important not to get too high or too low, but tonight’s win does feel pretty good. After a long December, the Minnesota Wild is undefeated in 2014. It’s funny to think of a January contest as a must win, but that’s what it felt like tonight as the Wild snapped a six-game losing streak and looked a lot like the team we saw before the slide. The Wild played a smart hockey game, getting points from 10 different players, and took care of business against the Sabres.
Minnesota took care of the puck tonight, limiting the Sabres chances and scored some pretty goals in the process. After a scoreless first period, Marco Scandella got things rolling, activating in the neutral zone and making give and go plays with both Justin Fontaine and Matt Cooke, before beating Sabres netminder Ryan Miller. After the goal, the Wild seemed to settle down and found its groove.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu had a punnet of apples for his 100th career multi-point game. Koivu’s second came on a goal from the not-seen-everyday file: with the Sabres’ net empty for an extra attacker, Kyle Brodziak was awarded a goal after he was hauled down from behind. He would’ve had a clear path to the net (Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo joked after that he was going to go top shelf with it), and it’s a rule that I was aware of, but the first time I’ve seen enforced. There’s a first time for everything.
The Wild gave a much more complete effort tonight, limiting the Sabres to 20 shots on goal. Clayton Stoner was back in the lineup tonight after missing the previous four with a lower-body injury. Stoner was a physical force—totaling five hits—and was a rock in the defensive end. For his effort, he was awarded the game’s Third Star.
It had been a while, but Minnesota played a good game in front of goaltender Niklas Backstrom. The netminder has had bad luck this season, getting a lot of road starts and the team has admittedly played poorly when he’s been in the cage. But tonight, the club was good in front of Backstrom, and the goaltender stepped up when he had to. In the second period he made a vintage save—a post-to-post sliding pad save on Jamie McBain. When he came to the rink today, Backstrom had no idea he’d be starting in net. But after Josh Harding was feeling sick, Backstrom stepped up and gave the Wild a chance to win.
Jason Pominville sure likes to torment his former team. In the Wild’s first outing in Buffalo, Pominville scored the game winner on Oct. 14, 2013. Tonight, he scored the game winner on a similar play. Koivu walked down the wall, found time and space and made a cross-ice seam pass right onto the tape of the streaking winger. In one motion, Pominville caught the pass and whipped a wrister past Ryan Miller’s glove before the Sabres netminder could slide across the crease. It was Pominville’s team-leading 18th of the season and fifth game winner.
What made the play was Pominville’s release. He spent virtually no time trying to set up the shot; if he had delayed, Miller would’ve had time to come across the crease. Instead, Miller had no chance on the shot. When it happened, I would’ve easily chalked that up as the best shot of the night, but then a youngster made an impressive appearance…
Jason Zucker was recalled from Iowa yesterday with the hope that he’d be able to bring some offensive production to the lineup. Well, in the second period, he showed his potential as an offensive catalyst.
The play started in the Wild’s defensive zone, with Nino Niederreiter chipping the puck out of the zone off the glass. Zucker tracked the flying puck like a centerfielder, gloved it down and was off to the races. He had a 2-on-1 with Jared Spurgeon, but kept the puck and beat Miller over the glove. The shot was an absolute (air quotes) laser that Dr. Evil would’ve placed it on the moon. Even with the goaltender out and cutting down the angle, Zucker popped it into the top corner of the net. With the Wild struggling to find offense at times this season, Zucker made the right play by shooting and not trying to force a pass through a defender.
The 21-year-old line of Zucker, Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund played strong all night, not trying to force plays, but allowed the offense to come naturally. Sometimes young players tend to try to do too much and press when goals are not coming, but it’s a learning process often doing the small stuff leads to bigger things—just like the Zucker goal.
After yesterday’s Winter Classic, the men and women’s USA Olympic hockey teams were announced. From the Wild, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were named to the team. Buffalo’s Ryan Miller also was named as one of the team’s three goaltenders. During the first period, the Wild acknowledged the three Olympians headed to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games. When Miller was shown on the video board he gave a wave and it was one of the few times an opposing goaltender was cheered at Xcel Energy Center. All three were major contributors at the 2010 Vancouver Games as Team USA earned a Silver Medal. They are expected to be a big part of this year’s team, which boasts eight Minnesotans and 13 Olympians from the 2010 Games.
The Americans might’ve surpassed expectations in 2010, but this year’s team is looking for Gold. With the announcement on the grand stage of the Winter Classic, there was a lot of instant reaction around the Interwebs. The chirping wasn’t all online, of course, as a Canadian friend texted me, “Team USA looks like a lock for the bronze.” Leave it up to the Olympics to bring out the national pride and country-versus-country trash talk. We love you Canada, but it’s on in February, hashtag Merica.