Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he'll look back at a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings:
The Wild needed to be tougher to play against. Tonight against the Kings, Minnesota responded with a gritty team effort. Top to bottom, everyone in the lineup contributed and was tough to play against, whether it was through physical play or making smart chips at the blue lines.
“That’s how you respond,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “You have to deal with adversity.”
Niklas Backstrom was stellar in the final period when they needed him, making 12 saves in the third after facing only 11 shots in the first two periods. Goalies will tell you how difficult it can be to stay in games when they are not facing a high volume of shots, but Backstrom stayed focused and kept the Kings off the board in third. His best save of the game came with only 11 ticks left on the clock. Clutch.
The Wild blue line also deserves a ton of credit for helping out their goaltender and keeping the Kings’ second chances down. Ryan Suter (32:17 TOI) and Jonas Brodin (29:22 TOI) were horses and anchored a solid effort from the blue line, shutting down a talented group of Kings forwards.
In my Five Takeaways against the Flames, I wrote about how dominant the Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle line was on the forecheck and only managed one goal. Tonight, against a big and strong Kings team, the line had the same impact, and again came away with one goal. In the first period, Coyle got the Wild on the board with his eighth goal of the season.
Each member of the trio is excellent at protecting the puck, but each brings a little different flavor to the offensive zone cycle. Parise uses pure determination and pumps his feet relentlessly down low to keep checkers at his back. Coyle is a man-child, who can lean on defenders like an old man slouching his back against the wall of a sauna. Koivu is a master of body control and uses his back like a turtle shell to shield defenders. They are all difficult to knock off the puck and when all three are rolling the line is nearly impossible to contain.
For tonight’s contest, Cal Clutterbuck was moved to a line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. Talking after the team’s morning skate, Yeo said he wanted Clutterbuck to be a physical presence and to be a force in the middle of the ice, especially in front of the net. Well, the forward came out flying tonight and responded with his fourth goal of the season and first since March 16.
“He was good at getting Cully and Seto going with speed,” Yeo said. “I thought he was a nice complement.”
Setoguchi chipped a puck through neutral ice and found Clutterbuck, who had a head full of steam. He broke in on a 2-on-1 with Cullen. Kings’ defender Rob Scuderi slid along the ice to take away the pass, so Clutterbuck kept it and sniped the puck high to the short side past Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Clutterbuck’s physical play seemed to have rubbed off on his teammates…
Yeo said that he was looking for the Wild to be more difficult to play against, including playing a more physical brand of hockey. The club responded tonight and one player in particular was a wrecking ball. Setoguchi did his best Clutterbuck impersonation tonight, hitting everything that moved.
The forward is at his best when he’s engaged in the game physically and tonight he was like a heat-seeking missile. He finished five hits and fired three shots on goal. In the third period he had a shift that was representative of his game tonight. He battled at the D-zone blue line to get the puck cleared. He then followed up the play and, on a second effort from his knees, whipped a rebound shot just wide. As the puck caromed around to the point, he stayed in front of the cage and redirected Clayton Stoner’s shot just wide. He then followed the puck and finished another check before heading off for a change.
In the second period, Kings captain Dustin Brown had the puck along the boards in his own end. He saw Jason Pominville coming out of the corner of his eye, braced for the contact and extended his elbow right into the chin of the Wild forward. Pominville took the head hit and went down to the ice hard. He was able to skate off the ice under his own power, but didn’t return. The play went unpunished, but when the replay was shown on the scoreboard at Xcel Energy Center, boos came down like an April snowfall in Minnesota.
I’m all for players rights to protect themselves in dangerous spots, but Brown clearly could’ve avoided hitting Pominville in the head. Instead of bracing for the hit, or dropping his shoulder, he extended his elbow squarely into Pominville’s jaw. My guess is that the League takes a close look at the play. However, a bit of a wrinkle, if the NHL does take action against Brown, his availability tomorrow night against Detroit could be affected. So, if he is suspended, it will be against a team that is chasing the Wild, which could be a double burn for Minnesota.
SFC Kyle Klaphake from the MN National Guard dropped the ceremonial first puck between captains Koivu and Brown. Only he did this first. Pretty sweet.