For weeks, Wild coach Mike Yeo has repeated the same message to his team, over and over: Shoot the puck.
Thursday, those instructions finally sunk in. How else to explain what happened in a 5-1 victory over Vancouver Thursday at Xcel Energy Center? A team that has struggled to score scored a season-high five times. A team that has tried too often to be fancy rather than simple put the puck on net 45 times, a franchise record for a home game. The team’s 22 second-period shots were a season high for a period. While winning its third straight game, the Wild showed signs of having accepted Mike Yeo’s head-north system, finally putting it into action. Shoot the puck? Every player but two had a shot on net in this game.
“After two big, emotional wins against Detroit, you maybe wonder what you’re going to get,” said center Matt Cullen, who had his first two-goal game as a Wild player. He also had an assist. “We had a really solid 60-minute effort. Hards (goaltender Josh Harding) was unbelievable again, all four lines were rolling, the (defense was) good. It was a big response for a team that is trying to build and get better.”
Wednesday, after having defeated Detroit in back-to-back games, Yeo showed the Wild players tape of Detroit, which takes what Yeo calls “wasted shots” simply to create offensive zone time and breakdowns. Boy, did the Wild take this to heart. Down 1-0 after one period — a testament more to Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider than anything else — the Wild took control in the second with goals by Guillaume Latendress and Pierre-Marc Bouchard that came 21 seconds apart. Then the Wild was off to the races.
This is important. One thing the early part of the season has shown is that the Wild is very tight defensively, and are very deep with defensemen. Also, with Josh Harding — who got his third straight victory Thursday — playing well, the Wild has a very good 1-2 punch in goal with Niklas Backstrom and Harding. The question was whether the Wild could score goals. And while it’s just one game, the signs are good that the team is finally listening to Yeo when it comes to putting the puck on net, the driving that net looking for deflections or rebounds. Minnesota is now 5-1-0 in its last six home games.
NHL Team Report – Minnesota Wild – NOTES, QUOTES
–C Mikko Koivu is starting to show signs of emerging from his offensive slump. And Wild coach Mike Yeo thinks it’s about time for folks to stop criticizing the Wild captain. Koivu did not register a point in Thursday’s 5-1 romp overVancouver — he was just about the only Wild player who didn’t — but his solid play continued. Koivu’s had a big hit in overtime and the assist on Devin Setoguchi’s overtime winner in Detroit Tuesday. Koivu also had his first goal of the season to tie that game and sent it into overtime. Yeo said it’s time to leave Koivu alone about his offense. “I believe that guy should be considered for the Selke Trophy,” Yeo said of the award given each year to the NHL’s best defensive forward. “The guy kills penalties, the guy is great on faceoffs; night in and night out plays against top lines. I bet if you go around the league and ask guys if they like playing against him, I know they don’t. If you go into a corner with him, you know you’re going to have to put everything you got into trying to win that battle.” Yeo said Koivu’s offensive numbers are sacrificed because “there is no cheat to his game.”
–It was a lot harder going home than Matt Cullen ever expected. The veteran center, who grew up in Minnesota, signed on with the Wild before the 2010-11 season. And while he did OK, he wasn’t the consistent scorer both he and the Wild expected. The reason? Distractions. By his own admission, Cullen was unprepared for all the distractions that came with coming home. He went into this season determined not to lose his focus. Thursday’s two-goal, three-point performance was further proof that it’s working. Cullen had his ninth career two-goal game, his first since March of 2009. Indeed, Cullen’s entire game was a tour de force. He tied a career high with nine shots and won 13 of 17 faceoffs.
–It appears Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s determination to build the young talent in the organization is starting to bear fruit. Most noticeably in the defensive corps, which has been very strong of late. But there is also a lot of talent inHouston — the Wild’s AHL affiliate — making a pitch for NHL playing time. That is certainly true of Casey Wellman, who was cut late in training camp and sent to Houston with simple instructions: dominate.
So far, he has. Entering Houston’s game in Cleveland Thursday, Wellman was tied for second in the AHL with eight goals in 10 games. He was tied for first with five power-play goals and tied for seventh with 37 shots. “Really happy with him,” said Houston GM Jim Mill. “He’s scoring key goals, moving his feet, going to the hard areas. His goals are coming out of working hard, shooting the puck and going to the net hard.” Wellman, 24, had an injury-plagued 2010-11 season. A big scorer in college at Massachusetts, Wellman didn’t show that during his chances in the NHL so far. But he has been working overtime on his shot, and hit shows. Given his numbers, he figures to be an early call-up to the Wild should a roster spot need filling.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Our challenge is going to be to come back next game and do the things we did (Thursday). I’m sure Vancouver is in there saying they didn’t play well. But I believe we did a lot of things to make them feel that.” — Wild coach Mike Yeo, after Thursday’s 5-1 victory over Vancouver.
NHL Team Report – Minnesota Wild – ROSTER REPORT
–G Josh Harding continued his white-hot play. After beating Detroit in back-to-back games, Harding started Thursday against Vancouver and won his third straight game to improve to 3-0-1 this season. He has a 1.47 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage.
–LW Guillaume Latendress celebrated his return to the top line with a goal, his second of the season. Latendresse loves playing in the Xcel Energy Center. In 42 home games with the Wild, he has 21 goals. In 35 road games, he has nine.
–RW Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored his first goal of the season and had two assists Thursday against Vancouver. Bouchard is tied for the team lead with eight points (1-7-8), and the Wild is now 10-1-2 when Bouchard has scored since the start of the 2010-11 season.
–D Marco Scandella has been playing some lights-out defense. Thursday he added his second goal of the season and his first since opening night.
–D Marek Zidlicky has been slumping, and Wild coach Mike Yeo and he discussed that on the ice during Wednesday’s practice. Zidlicky responded by posting a plus-4 rating in Thursday’s game against Vancouver, tying a career high set March 4, 2008, at Edmonton.
–W Matt Kassian has cleared waivers and has been assigned to Houston of the AHL. Kassian’s playing time had suffered, first to make room for Brett Bulmer and more recently because of the play of Nick Johnson and Brad Staubitz. In Houston, Kassian will get stead minutes. “He’s still very much in our plans,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
–W Cody Almond, who has been rehabbing a sore back for three weeks, will make his season debut playing for Houston Friday in Hamilton in an AHL game.
–D Clayton Stoner injured his finger in the second period of the Wild’s Oct. 27 game against Anaheim. He missed his third straight game Thursday versus Vancouver.
–D Greg Zanon aggravated a groin injury in the third period Oct. 20 at Edmonton and missed his fifth straight game Thursday. He is day-to-day.
–D Mike Lundin (back spasms) missed all of training camp. He has begun skating on his own, but has not yet practiced with the team.
–Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky
–Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon
–Justin Falk, Nate Prosser
–LW Guillaume Latendresse, C Mikko Koivu, RW Dany Heatley
–LW Devin Setoguchi, C Matt Cullen, RW Pierre-Marc Bouchard
–LW Cal Clutterbuck, C Kyle Brodziak, RW Nick Johnson
–LW Colton Gillies, C Darroll Powe, RW Brad Staubitz