The big question coming out of the Olympic break was what team would we see tonight? Would we get the team we had in January and early February riding a two-game winning streak and going 11-4-2 into the break? Or the dreadful 5-9-0 team we had in December? Tonight, Questions appear to have been answered as the Minnesota Wild were able to shutout the Edmonton Oilers on the road at Rexall Place.
Tonight's game kicked off pretty quick with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Hendricks exchanging pleasantries just 54 seconds into the contest and sitting down for a couple minutes for their kind behavior towards each other. It wouldn't take long for the Wild to light the lamp either. Mikael Granlund, fresh off his stellar Olympic performance continues where he left off in Sochi as he flicked a wrister past Ben Scrivens and that is giving far to much credit to Scrivens who was caught well out of position after Zach Parise fed the puck across the slot to Magic Mike.
With just 6 shots for each team in the first period to go with each teams 6 penalty minutes you could surmise the first was pretty tame after opening up fast. Granlund showed why he was named to the All-Olympic team as he chased a puck with speed behind the Oilers net and without missing a step or slowing down spinning around an Oilers defender in the corner to continue his chase. A non-scoring play has never looked so pretty folks, Granlund is playing with a little something extra coming out of the Olympics.
The second period brought more of the same as both teams seemed to settle into a groove with some good back and forth hockey. Darcy Kuemper faced a few challenges but was up to the task. We did see our first post-Olympic fight tonight as Clayton Stoner squared off with Luke Gazdic which in hindsight was an unwise undertaking for him. All 3 judges scored this one for Grazdic and Stoner left for the locker room. I didn't see it but it sounds like the position of one of his fingers was, unnatural.
The only goal of the second period would come on a rolling puck off the stick of Stephane Veilleux. Erik Haula would use his speed to track down a puck and skate with it around the Oilers goal. As Haula emerged from the back side he found Veilleux planted on the edge of the left circle in the slot and the Red Rocket would fire one past Scrivens on the far side of the goal.
Shots would still be even after two periods as the Wild finish the second killing off their third penalty of the game. Erik Haula flipped a puck over the boards late in the period to earn him 2 minutes in the box for one of the dumbest penalties still on the books.
The Oilers would come out in the third period looking like they wanted to get on the scoreboard in a hurry. On more than one occasion in the first half of the period they would get some decent zone time against the Wild but the puck would just not find it's way past Kuemper (or the post on one occasion). Stoner returned in the third and broken finger or not, was prepared to drop the gloves again. This time his target of choice would be Matt Hendricks but the bout would not happen as the ref's were quick to jump in and put a stop to those shenanigans.
With just 10:31 left in the third, heaters would heat. Dany Heatley, from his knees on the left side of the crease would get enough of Charlie Coyle pass to get the puck behind Scrivens for the Wild's third goal of the contest. At this point the Wild were pretty content to sit back and not pressure the Oilers too much. Kuemper was rock solid in net and earned his second shutout of the season, stopping all 21 shots he faced from the Oilers.
The Wild would also finish the game with 21 shots and win just 44% of the games faceoffs. The Wild were able to kill off all 4 Oiler power plays tonight but also came up empty on their own 2 power play chances. Darcy Kuemper would earn the first star of the game with his shutout performance and Mikael Granlund would grab the second star with one goal on one recorded shot in 16:36 of ice time. Matt Hendricks would get the third star because it's Edmonton and things don't have to make sense.
The Wild came out of the Olympic break looking a little rusty at times but overall played a nice road game which is not something we got a lot of early in the season and is something the Wild need to master for the remaining 22 games this season. They have another opportunity to improve their road record tomorrow night in Vancouver against the Sedin twins and the Canucks.