Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs:
Yes, it’s an old and corny joke, but the Minnesota Wild played its best game of the year. The Wild needed to make crucial plays at critical moments of this game, something the team had been missing of late.
The Wild played a strong team game, starting with excellent goaltending from Darcy Kuemper (more on him in a moment). After the Leafs tied the game on a 5-on-3 power play in the third period, the Wild killed the rest of the penalty and went to work. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon led the rush and blasted a slap shot past Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier for the game-winning goal. The club then extended the lead on the power play — Thomas Vanek with a beautiful cross-box pass onto the tape of Mikko Koivu for a one-time goal.
Along with the goal scorers, several players responded tonight. Charlie Coyle had a pair of assists and played a physical game. After sitting as a healthy scratch in two consecutive games, Erik Haula was on the ice for 13:19 (2:26 shorthanded), won a career-high 11 faceoffs and played with speed. Minnesota will continue to count on strong efforts from everyone if the club is going to pile up wins and climb the Western Conference standings in 2015.
The Wild was outshot in this one, but Kuemper was there every time the Leafs tried to make a push. The goaltender earned tonight’s First Star making 34 saves. After battling through illness and a stretch of poor play, Kuemper looks like he’s regained his confidence. He’s allowed only five goals in his last three games and has been tracking the puck well. Kuemper is at his best when he’s out challenging, using his 6-foot-5 frame to take away net.
Although he kicked out a few rebounds, the netminder was moving well and is athletic enough to recover on second chances. Tonight, he made several sliding saves and cut down the Maple Leafs’ rebound attempts like a buzz saw. The netminder had three or four sequences where he made the initial stop and then went post-to-post on the second chance, including a huge stop on the Leafs’ leading scorer Phil Kessel in the third.
Forward Kyle Brodziak started wearing a half-shield this season for protection around his eyes. Despite the increased coverage, the center still took a puck to the face in the first period tonight on a Maple Leafs’ clearing attempt, albeit in the jaw area. It was a chip shot, so it was fairly soft and Brodziak hardly flinched. He seemed pretty unfazed because he had no problem going to the net and putting home a pass from Coyle for the game’s first goal in the second period. Still, taking a puck to the face stings.
With NHL requiring players entering the league to wear half-shields, we are seeing fewer and fewer pros playing without a visor. Soon there will be only one player going visor-less, much like Craig MacTavish was the last NHLer to play without a helmet after the League made them mandatory. The NHL is bigger, stronger and faster game, and it’s easy to see why Brodziak — and Ryan Suter last season — decided to wear a visor for the added protection.
It seems like the half-shield has had no visible impact on Suter’s vision. With a flick of the wrists, the blueliner makes two-zone outlet passes with the ease of dropping a soda can in the recycling. To start the second period, Koivu won a draw back to Jonas Brodin, who went to his partner Suter. After settling the bouncing puck, the defenseman made a tape-to-tape pass from the top of the circle in his own zone to Zach Parise at the far blue line. The pass sprung Parise for an opportunity that Leafs goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, denied.
On Brodziak’s goal, it again was Suter who started the play. Although he didn’t get an assist, he made the initial pass to Nino Niederreiter at the red line that got the puck out of Minnesota’s defensive zone. Niederreiter then made a play to spring Coyle and Brodziak on an odd-man rush…
The Wild has built a reputation for doing all the “little things” well. However, of late, the team has gotten away from doing all the small things (please don’t cue up Blink 182), like getting pucks deep, picking up the correct player on the backcheck and winning one-on-one battles. Often times it is the minute details of the game, which lead to bigger things.
This was the case for Niederreiter on Brodziak’s goal.
After taking the pass from Suter at the red line, Niederreiter and Leafs defenseman Roman Polak were tied up along the boards with the puck loose along the wall. It looked like the dangerous sniper, Kessel, was going to swoop in, pick the puck up and transition into the Wild’s zone. However, Niederreiter, still fighting off Polak, made a one-handed play to knock the puck off Kessel’s stick and then chip it into the offensive zone. Coyle picked up the puck and made a pass that went in off Brodziak’s skate. The pass and finish will make the highlight reel, but Niederreiter’s play will be shown in the film room if the Wild ever needs to give an example on second effort.