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 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks:
Tonight, the Wild took advantage of its opportunities and home ice, taking down a very hungry Sharks club. Minnesota continues to impress in the State of Hockey, moving to 13-3-2 at home and is tied for the National Hockey League lead with the Boston Bruins for most wins and points at home.
Despite being outshot 38-13, Minnesota earned its sixth-straight win against San Jose since Nov. 2, 2010 at Xcel Energy Center, and handing the now-reeling Sharks a third-straight loss. After jumping out to a two-goal lead in the second period, the Wild battled down the stretch and leaned on goaltender Josh Harding. With San Jose frantically trying for a comeback, it was one of those all-in efforts from the Wild with everyone sacrificing their bodies to block shots and win puck battles to secure a victory.
Mikko Koivu has one of the most deceptive wrist shots in the NHL. In the second period, the captain received a pass from Jared Spurgeon on a 3-on-2 and walked down the slot. Koivu moved to his forehand and looked like he was either going to hit Zach Parise or possibly slide the puck to a trailing Dany Heatley. However, he calmed the puck and fired a laser high over the blocker of goaltender Antti Niemi.
High to the blocker is one of the most difficult places to beat a goaltender straight up, and Koivu makes it look easy (remember his game winner in Ottawa?). One of the reasons it is so difficult to beat a goaltender there: When he goes into the butterfly—which is virtually on every straight-up shot—he leaves his blocker hand high because he needs to keep his stick in place along the ice. Unlike the glove hand, which can drop down when the netminder goes to his knees leaving a hole for shooters, the blocker and shoulder pretty much stays locked in place. If he were to drop the blocker, he’d leave a gaping 5-hole as his stick would move with his hand. Despite this fact, Koivu is able to fit the puck into that small area, like a hipster squeezing into skinny jeans.
If Koivu’s wrister is one of the more deceptive in the NHL, teams around the League have to know better than to try and test Josh Harding’s glove—one of the quickest amongst NHL netminders. Harding made another windmill glove save, tonight on the dangerous Joe Pavelski. The Sharks sniper had a great look from the top of the circle in the second period and tried to beat Harding high over the right shoulder. However, Harding whipped his hand around, snatching the puck and finishing in his patented splits position for a whistle.
Harding has been nearly unbeatable at home and tonight was no different. The goaltender improved to 13-1-0, with a 1.25 goals-against average and .945 save percentage at Xcel Energy Center. His 37 saves were a season high.
Minnesota has had a few unfortunate breaks on goals getting called off this season, but was the beneficiary of a few non-calls on the team’s first tally.
First, with the puck in the corner, Parise cagily knocked the stick out of Sharks defenseman Justin Braun’s hand. Koivu was able to play the puck in the vicinity while Braun bent over to pick up his lumber. With Braun trying to pick up his stick like it was a dollar bill blowing in the wind down the sidewalk, Parise was not called for the infraction and free to go to the net.
Meanwhile, the puck squirted out to Marco Scandella at the point and the blueliner fired it on goal, as Jason Pominville came from behind the net to try to set a screen. Pominville was just outside the crease and slipped between the goaltender Niemi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Niemi reached out to grab at Scandella’s shot and collided with Pominville, and alongside Vlasic, the three piled up in front of the net while the puck bounced free. Parise swooped in and tucked a backhander home. Pominville had no intent on colliding with Niemi, and actually looked like he was trying to avoid the goaltender and, fortunately for the Wild, the refs saw it the same way.
To start the season, Minnesota was one of the NHL’s top teams in the faceoff circle. The club has seen a dip in success at the dots recently, but came back with a big effort tonight, especially in the opening frame, winning 14-of-20 first period faceoffs and 35-of-69 overall. One of the best draw men in the league, Zenon Konopka, was re-inserted into the lineup tonight and won three out of five. Coming into tonight’s contest, Konopka led all NHL centermen winning 65 percent of his faceoffs.
Konopka has taken new center, Charlie Coyle, under his wing. Chad Graff reported today in the Pioneer Press that Konopka was working with Coyle after practice yesterday. Making the move to center has been difficult for Coyle, but with his size, strength, hands and work ethic, he is sure to improve. The practice paid off because Coyle won 58 percent (7-for-13) tonight.
Consistently winning in the circle is one of the toughest skills to pick up and must be developed. A player can be dynamite in college or junior hockey, but struggle in the NHL. Rarely do first or second year players excel at the pivot. There are so many nuances players have to be aware of: Which ref is dropping the puck and his tendencies; what their opponent is trying to do and which way he wants to draw the puck; and what they personally want to do and where their teammates are lining up. The best centers are strong on their stick, have great anticipation, have a bag of tricks to keep their opponents guessing and are relentless once the puck hits the ice. And they cheat, a lot. At the dot: If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.