Jason Zucker is scorching hot. He is the only goalscorer for the Minnesota Wild in the last three games where he’s tallied six (6!) goals in that span. Devan Dubnyk? He’s shut the door in consecutive games since getting the hook against the Maple Leafs two games ago.
The teams played in a scoreless tie through two periods. Minnesota couldn’t mount much in the first period. Mikko Koivu got a great short-handed chance on an early Philadelphia power play, but was turned away by Flyers starting goaltender Brian Elliott. Though the Wild had issues moving through the neutral zone, Dubnyk really stepped up in a big way to keep the Flyers at bay.
Minnesota was able to open things up a bit more in the second period. With the Wild really doing well to crash the net, or at least get bodies to the net, Elliott was equal to the task. Pucks weren’t settling on Wild sticks long enough to get good shots away when they were in close. Two players that really stood out as net crashers were Marcus Foligno, and Joel Eriksson Ek. Eriksson Ek had a number of good chances at the top of the crease, but couldn’t get them to go.
Minnesota only had 14 shots after two periods. The Wild power play was yet again ineffective after going 0-for-3 in the game. That said, the Wild power play has been solid. The PK has only surrendered 3 power play goals in 34 short-handed tries since they gave up two power play goals on October 20th to the Winnipeg Jets. They’ve been stingy and haven’t allowed a power play goal in three straight games.
In the third period, it was time for Jason Zucker to make his presence known. Coming off his first career hat trick in Montreal just two nights ago, Zucker just needed one to put the Wild up for good. Zucker chased a dump-in deep into the Flyers’ zone. There, Nino Niederreiter took over behind the goal line. He was able to the work the puck behind the net and bank-passed the puck up to the blue line for Matt Dumba. Dumba one-timed a hard, low shot that Elliott couldn’t handle cleanly. There was Zucker on the far post to tuck the rebound in for the 1-0 lead.
The line of Nino Niederreiter - Eric Staal - Jason Zucker really started to have some solid shifts prior to the goal, but none was perhaps better after the goal than the one late in the third period. The line held possession for nearly the whole shift and just cycled the puck well. As a group, there were just a few real chances to score, but the time the expired inside the Philadelphia defensive zone was huge. The cycle was capped off with Zucker feeding the puck to Eriksson Ek fresh off the bench. Eriksson Ek’s shot would be stopped, but the time was something the Flyers couldn’t get back.
A team like the Flyers, equipped with a top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek, who’ve already amassed 60 points collectively this season, time can be the enemy if it’s on their side. All night long, the Wild limited their space, took time away, and if they didn’t, Dubnyk was there for the save.
This game was eerily similar to the win over Montreal. That game featured a scoreless tie in a real goaltender’s duel through two periods before Jason Zucker managed to find the back of the net. Fast forward to Saturday night’s game, and Dubnyk was seeing a lot of rubber early, and the chances the Wild got, Elliott was able to turn away. Then Zucker broke the tie and the Wild held on for its 7th win on the season.
Minnesota improved to a 7-7-2 record, just one point behind the Avalanche, and two points behind the Blackhawks, Stars, and Predators. It’s going to take a lot for the Wild to climb out of the cellar of the Central Division, and they need to go on an elongated run of wins here. But when the team is finding ways to win, and that includes the goaltender playing lights out, it’s a good way to start. Now the rest of the team needs to join in with the Zucker scoring party.