More Than Meets The Eye

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Although it’s no coincidence that the Minnesota Wild have enjoyed a hot streak since the acquisition of Netminder Devan Dubnyk, goaltending is certainly not the sole reason for the  success Minnesota’s enjoyed as of recent. Most people who see the stats know that the biggest concern for the Wild at the time of the trade was goaltending. Prior to the trade, the Wild had the worst team save percentage in the NHL, and in the first 17 games since the Wild acquired Dubnyk, he’s stopped 93.6% of the shots he’s faced and boasted a goals-against average of 1.64. My philosophy is that great hockey teams are built from the net out and solid goaltending was the one thing that was holding Minnesota back from being a very good hockey team, but the Wild did not have a stretch of about a month and a half in which they couldn’t win back-to-back games solely because of their goaltending troubles. Anyone who thinks that a good goaltender can steal hockey games on his own has clearly never seen an NHL All-star game, where even the best netminders in the game get scored on more than a college Freshmen with daddy issues.

For much of the hot streak that the Wild have enjoyed recently (with an NHL-best 11-1-1 record since the All-Star break), the Wild have played the type of game that they played just two nights ago at home against the Dallas Stars, the type of game that the Wild have played throughout successful stretches of the season. The Wild enjoyed the majority of the quality chances, they outshot Dallas 35-20, and controlled play for most of the game. This is the brand of hockey that the Wild got away from during their month and a half long cold streak and unfortunately, with our goaltending situation at the time, on nights where we didn’t play particularly well we got beat, it was as simple as that. I believe that since Minnesota acquired Duby, the Wild have had more confidence in their ability to take chances to make plays, knowing that their strong defensive core and Dubnyk will be back their when the opponent does get the puck to the neutral zone and beyond. I think that this is why the Wild were able to generate so many chances the other night, and even cash in for a goal from their 4th-line, who might have been playing a bit more conservative earlier in the season. The Wild ended up cashing in for 6 goals, all in the 3rd period to beat the Stars 6-2. Ironically, the best shift of the night for the Wild was in the 2nd period and didn’t result in a goal. Minnesota spent about 2 minutes in their offensive zone, with Ryan Suter holding the zone on multiple clearing attempts and Mikael Granlund generating a few quality chances. From a defensive standpoint, Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba have noticeably improved recently. Matt Dumba, the rookie from Alberta, has made some huge defensive plays as of late to compliment his aggressive style of play, often walking the puck in from the blue line and creating his own chances and Ryan Suter, the workhorse, logging anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes a night, didn’t appear to be the top-5 defenseman in the NHL that we’d come to recognize, during the month of December and early January. Lately, however, Suter has limited costly mistakes and been the strong stay-at-home defenseman that this club has needed him to be this year. Suter’s defensive partner Jonas Brodin and 3rd-pairing D-man, Nate Prosser, have also played a sound stay-at-home role, which compliments Minnesota’s offensive firepower nicely.

Due to the Wild’s reliable defensemen, as well as their aggressive forechecking, especially when the Granlund and Koivu lines are on the ice, with Zach Parise, one of the grittiest little pests the NHL has to offer playing to Granny’s left and Vanek (who doesn’t backcheck much, so might as well forecheck) to Koivu’s right with the two centers always working hard on both ends, the Wild have given teams a lot of trouble getting through the neutral zone on many occasions since the All-Star break. As previously stated, this brand of hockey that the Wild play when they are at their best has spring boarded them into the playoff conversation. Although contrary to how the Wild played against Dallas the other night, just 4 days earlier, they just looked flat for the last two periods at the Saddledome in Calgary. Minnesota jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st period, with Justin Fontaine scoring on a deflection and the Calgary kid himself, in front of friends and family, Matt Dumba, potting the second. The Wild gave up some of their momentum late in the first when they gave up a goal to Jiri Hudler, allowing the Flames to go in to the dressing room with a 1-goal deficit. In the 2nd and 3rd periods, the Flames seemed to scamper through the neutral zone with ease, accumulating a majority of the scoring chances and ending regulation with upwards of 30 shots on goal, a rarity against a Wild team that is so stout defensively. The Wild were fortunate to only give up one goal in the final two frames and survive until overtime. The Flames even started the overtime with a jump, highlighted by Matt Dumba’s defensive play that cancelled the best chance of the stanza, when Jiri Hudler caught Devan Dubnyk out of position and had a chance to flick a backhander through the short side but Dumba got the head of his stick on Hudler’s just in time. After the defensive play, Dumba picked up the puck, fed an outlet pass to defensive-partner Marco Scandella, who led Minnesota on the last odd-man rush of the game. The Scandy Man brought the puck into the offensive zone, gave it to winger Charlie Coyle who dropped it to Captain Mikko Koivu. Koivu wheeled to his left, gained some separation from Flames D-man and Captain-counterpart Mark Giordiano, and threw a wrister at the net. The puck bounced off Flames’ rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau, in to the net, and the rest is history. On a night where the Wild didn’t play particularly well, we stole two-points on the road. Prior to the Dubnyk trade, we weren’t playing with the type of confidence that we are now (By the way I’m from Minnesota so by “we” I mean the Wild), we weren’t playing as well defensively as we’ve been playing of late (aside of the Calgary game), and we’ve had the goaltending to make the necessary saves. We’ve been winning from the net out, but Dubnyk has not needed to be a hero in very many games, he’s mostly made saves that he’s expected to make and that’s made a world of difference. Earlier in the year, fellow Wild goaltenders, Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom simply weren’t making the saves that they were expected to make and on nights prior to the Dubnyk trade where we played as poorly as we did in Calgary 6 nights ago, we were all but guaranteed to walk out of there with a regulation loss but we were able to steal a win because we had Duby between the pipes to make the necessary saves. Hopefully we can make it a little easier on Duby at home against Edmonton on Tuesday and play the way we did against Dallas in our barn and hopefully come away with an ever-so-precious 2 points in a playoff chase that could go down to the wire in this last month and a half.

Western Conference Wild Card Race (2/24):                       Race for 3rd in Central Division:

1st WC: WPG-71 Points, 61 GP                                            3rd: Chicago-75 points, 60 GP

2nd WC: Wild-69 Points, 59 GP                                                   Winnipeg-71 Points, 61 GP

Calgary: 68; 59 GP                                                                        Wild-69 Points, 59 GP

San Jose: 68, 61 GP

Dallas (SouthStars): 63; 60 GP

Colorado: 63; 60 GP

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