Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 6-3 win against the St. Louis Blues:
For the second time in a week, the Minnesota Wild took down the Central Division’s top team, the St. Louis Blues. However, this one looked a lot different, with the Wild in the driver’s seat for most of the game. While a few of the goals might’ve been on fortuitous bounces, the club was creating its own luck, and scoring chances, today.
Last week, the team stole two points thanks to a 41-save performance from Devan Dubnyk. Today’s matinee was an offensive outburst — the 12th time this season Minnesota has posted five or more goals. Dubnyk made key saves early (26 on the night) until Minnesota found its offense. The club jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period on tallies from Chris Stewart and Thomas Vanek and never looked back.
Forward Justin Fontaine earned the game’s First Star with a goal and two assists. It was the second three-point game of his career and his goal was a perfectly executed odd-man rush (which we’ll get to momentarily). The wing seems to have found his stride alongside Charlie Coyle and Vanek. Fontaine has four multi-point games in his last 18, and 14 points (5-9=14) during that span. Coyle added two assists and Vanek netted his 17th of the season. The Austrian extended his point streak to seven games (5-3=8), the longest streak for the Wild this year.
When the St. Louis Blues shipped Stewart to the Buffalo Sabres at last season’s Trade Deadline Day, the forward went from a contender to the worst team in the National Hockey League. Being on the desolate hockey island of perpetual losing couldn’t have been easy for the forward. While I didn’t watch a whole lot of Buffalo this season (two games, each time the Wild played them), since coming to Minnesota, Stewart looks like the engaged power forward he was while wearing a Blues uniform. Today, he scored his third in a Wild sweater on a beautiful, foreward-backhand-5-hole breakaway move. He created a turnover in the D-zone and then raced the length of the ice for the breakaway against Blues netminder Brian Elliot. He now has six points (3-3=6) in 10 games since joining the Wild.
When the Wild acquired Stewart, we knew they were getting a big strong player who had a scoring touch. However, I didn’t realize how well the 6-foot-2, 231-pound wing moved north-south. After knocking the puck past Carl Gunnarsson, he left the D-man in his ice shavings. It looked like defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was going to close on Stewart, but the forward found another gear and just enough separation before slipping the puck through Elliot’s legs.
The Wild kept the pressure on the Blues in the second period, scoring a pair of goals only 26 seconds apart. Jonas Brodin was the catalyst on both. On the first, Brodin was positioned on the blue line at the middle of the ice and took a pass from Mikael Granlund. The puck was a little off target and Brodin, moving to his left, had to handle it on his backhand. Despite the slight misfire, the blueliner, in one motion, fielded it on his backhand and moved it to the forehand in stride, while keeping it inside the zone. He then fired a snap shot on net and Zach Parise was there for the rebound and tapped it in. Brodin’s blue line ballet probably would’ve gone unnoticed in the course of a game if it didn’t result in a goal. However, the defender consistently makes those kind of intuitive, in-the-moment reactionary plays.
While he made an amazing move on his assist, his goal less than half a minute later was a little bit lucky. The 21-year-old took a wobbly puck and wound up for a knuckler that looked like it changed directions a couple of times before getting past Elliot. One lesson I’ve learned in life: when you’re regularly doing things the right way and at a high level, lady luck will take a turn in your favor. For Brodin, his second goal of the season was a good example of that rule.
It’s hard to draw up a better odd-man rush than the one that resulted in the Wild’s fifth goal of the game. In a three-on-two situation, you want the puck on the outside with the middle player going to the net. The middle guy driving serves dual purposes: First, it opens up the center of the ice by pushing the defenders back; second, the middleman is a threat for a return pass or a rebound.
In the second, Coyle moved the puck to Fontaine on the right wall and drove the net. Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin was the late backchecker and went to Coyle. This was a bad decision because his defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, got tied up with Coyle and was unable to close the gap on Fontaine. The Wild wing took advantage of the open space, stepping into the middle and firing a wrist shot past goaltender Jake Allen (who replaced Elliot after Brodin’s goal). The Wild works on odd-man rushes in practice all of the time and nearly every time there is a player driving the middle lane.
With 10 players on the roster, the Wild and State of Hockey know a thing or two about college hockey. There are three college tournaments going on in the Twin Cities this weekend: the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, the WCHA Final Five and the Women’s NCAA National Championship.
Yesterday, my St. Cloud State Huskies topped Parise’s alma mater, the University of North Dakota. Today SCSU will take on the Miami RedHawks at Target Center for the NCHC playoff title. Meanwhile, Dan Myers’ Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks play the Michigan Tech Huskies. Everyone knows which game I’ll be watching, but they should be a pair of exciting matchups worth keeping an eye on.
The NCAA Women’s Frozen Four is at Ridder Arena on the campus of University of Minnesota and college puck will carry into Sunday Funday, as the Golden Gophers take on the Harvard Crimson at 3 p.m for the National Championship.