Thirteen. Thirteen skaters for the Minnesota Wild had a point in Tuesday night’s victory against the scuffling Los Angeles Kings. The Wild used special teams and its speed to wreak havoc on the Kings goaltending. Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Jared Spurgeon all found the back of the net as the Wild chased Kings goalie Jeff Zatkoff from the pipes after both goalies exhibited fits with tracking the puck early. The Kings fall to 0-3 on the season, and need Jonathan Quick back in the worst way. Minnesota improves to 2-1 and undefeated so far on home ice at Xcel Energy Center.
The first period wasn’t pretty. It started with two icings in a row for the Wild within the first minute of game time. All that running around ended with a Tanner Pearson goal at :50 of the first. It was a soft goal that Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper missed with the catching glove. Kuemper, starting in his first game this season, is looking to show that he can carry a more balanced load this season under new coach Bruce Boudreau. However, that first goal isn’t going to garner any praise from the bench boss.
Not to be out-done by fighting the puck, though, Jeff Zatkoff was bested by speedy Wild forward Erik Haula. Haula careened down the left wing side and let go a slapper that beat the Kings goaltender through the five-hole for Haula’s first of the season. Both goalies allowed soft goals to start the game and “shaky” is probably describing it lightly. Kuemper got help by Kings players hitting three posts behind him. Jason Pominville sniped the top right corner from the left wing side and beat Zatkoff over the glove.
The Wild may have escaped with a 2-1 lead after one period, but the Kings had owned zone time and shot attempts to a tune of 17-7 during 5-on-5 play.
Minnesota then came out in the second period looking to force the play the other way. Charlie Coyle draws penalties - it’s what he does. He drew a penalty from Jeff Carter in the offensive zone. The Wild were unable to score on that particular man-advantage, but it gave the Wild a chance to work in the offensive zone. The Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Coyle line followed up the power play with a great shift that finally saw some great chances for Minnesota.
All momentum that seemed to be gathering for Minnesota might have been killed when a Too Many Men bench minor was followed up by a Parise tripping penalty that put the Wild down two men for 49 seconds. Kuemper made a good save by staying tight to the post. Followed by a great clear by Koivu. Minnesota was able to kill off the 5-on-3 disadvantage to a resounding applause to the Wild faithful in attendance. Big penalty kills can swing momentum just as much as a big hit, fight, or a power play goal. First it was Coyle cashing in on a power play after Anze Kopitar cross checked Ryan Suter to make it 3-1. Then Mikael Granlund made a little start-stop-start move along the right half wall to get the puck to the front of the net. Mikko Koivu was crashing the net and swept the puck into the net past Zatkoff, as Koivu likes to keep the blue paint clean of pucks. Teemu Pulkkinen would cap off a three goal second period when he tipped a Jonas Brodin shot for his first of the season and first with the Wild.
The Kings’ goaltending was the demise and Zatkoff would be replaced in goal by Petr Budaj to start the third period. The Kings were able to score when Anze Kopitar was able to poke the puck underneath a moving/scrambling Kuemper. The puck was originally under his left pad, but as he lifted his legs to find the puck, Kopitar poked it loose and into the net. Pearson would add his second goal with just over five minutes remaining to cut the lead to two goals. Kings coach Darryl Sutter chose to pull the goalie with just over two minutes remaining and as soon as Budaj reached the bench, Jared Spurgeon lofted the puck down the ice and into the empty net. Spurgeon scores his first of the season with a nice punch cut fade with a 5 iron down the ice.
The penalty killing from this team has been very good. Not just good, but elite. It kept the Kings off the board in five opportunities Tuesday night, and has started the season on an 11-for-11 kill streak (quick unleash the Attack Dogs!) It was gigantic in swinging momentum on a big 5-on-3 kill, and is a vast improvement over the 27th ranked PK from last season.
The Kings still owned puck possession, and a team like the Kings can still hurt you if you’re not careful. The Wild could have done a better job seeing the game through with pressure in the offensive zone, but they did just enough to keep the Kings from coming all the way back in the third.