Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-2 home win against the Detroit Red Wings:
Youth was served tonight, as the Wild dug out of a two-goal, second-period deficit to top the Detroit Red Wings. Helping lead the charge were five 22-and-under players: goaltender Darcy Kuemper; forwards Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker; and defenseman Jonas Brodin.
With the Wild going through some up-and-down play early in the season, it was only a matter of time until some youngsters playing for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros, would get a shot at the big club. Tonight the youngsters were given an opportunity to show their stuff and they responded…
When Darcy Kuemper came to the rink today, he had no idea he’d be in goal against the Wings. Niklas Backstom was slated as the Wild’s starter since yesterday’s practice. However, Backstrom was feeling ill, so the rookie netminder was thrown in the net.
“Kemps didn’t know he was starting tonight,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “ We put him in a difficult position, but I thought he responded.”
He responded with a 29 save performance and was better as the game went on. After falling down 2-0 on a quick second period goal by Pavel Datsyuk, you could almost feel the air fall out of the Xcel Energy Center. But Kuemper stayed strong, shutting the door the rest of the way to allow the Wild build towards a comeback win. After the game, you couldn’t have wiped the smile off of Kuemper’s face with a piece of sandpaper, and rightfully so.
We knew Jason Zucker has speed, but I’m not sure anyone realized how fast he was until witnessing his first NHL goal. The winger has the kind of explosiveness that simply can’t be taught. Sure, you can develop it and improve, but everyone has a ceiling. The Las Vegas, Nev., resident has the kind of get-up-and-go speed that, in sport, is more precious than gold.
The first goal of Zucker’s career will be a memorable one, as he went coast-to-coast blowing by two Red Wings in the process, and that was after ragging the puck in the corner for a short chunk of his shift. He then led a 2-on-1 with Devin Setoguchi, looked off the veteran and buried a shot off the post and in low to the blocker side.
“Zuck, that was a huge goal,” Yeo said after the game. “That’s what he does; he finds ways to score.
“He can bury it.”
The most understated performance of the night amongst the youngsters might’ve come from forward Johan Larsson. The Swede plays with a junkyard dog tenacity that Yeo appreciated, and rewarded with ice time.
Larsson played a hair over 14 minutes, with more than five of those minutes coming in the third period with the game on the line. He took a shift with under two minutes left in regulation, showing Yeo’s faith in the forward.
The forward isn’t going to wow you with blinding speed like Zucker or mesmerize with flash like Granlund, but Larsson is known for making the right play—doing the little things that teams need for wins. Yeah, making the right play—like chipping the puck past a defender at the blue line or finishing a check in the first period—might not the most glamorous thing, but it's what gets wins. It’s not a coincidence that Sweden won gold at the World Junior Championships and his Swedish Elite League team, Brynas, won the league title with him on the team.
As well as the youngster played, the veterans on the top line led the comeback charge. Midway through the second period, with the team down two goals, things looked bleak for the Wild. Then Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise put together a shift that got things going for the good guys.
“That shift for me was unbelievable,” Yeo said. “The work ethic of those guys was 30 seconds in the offensive zone of winning battles and just sheer determination.
“That, for me, was what got us started.”
Heatley started with the puck in the right corner, carrying it to the hash mark before cycling it down low to Parise. Parise spun away from a defender and got the puck to Koivu behind the net. The captain tried to jam the puck home, but couldn’t get it past goaltender Petr Mrazek. The rebound popped out to Heater, who didn’t get all of a slapper, but enough of it to put it through the netminder’s five-hole. A big time play from three guys who have been doing it for a long time.