There are players on this team riding super high. Others, not so much. Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund each had a power play goal and even strength goal that saw Minnesota get a sizable lead. Mike Reilly struggling and Devan Dubnyk not seeing the puck well gave the Sabres a chance. Minnesota held on in the final few minutes to improve to 5-1-1 in their last six games.
The Sabres, coming in to Wednesday night’s action, were trying to break six-game losing streak. The Wild have beaten the Sabres 8 times in 10 tries before hockey action commenced.
Phil Housley’s squad came out and found the back of the net first. At the 6:55 mark of the first period, it looked like Jason Pominville was able to stab the puck past Dubnyk. Dubnyk was down in the H-L position near the right post. The high-low position is where the goalie has his leg nearest the post still upright, while the backside leg is down in a sort of half butterfly. Dubnyk didn’t seal the post off and it would be actually Jack Eichel that got the last touch on the puck before it trickled over the goal line.
Minnesota would get a huge gift when Tyler Ennis scored against his former squad. Ennis, who’s been struggling, was acquired with Marcus Foligno in the trade for Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella. Ennis put a backhander on net from the rim of the left offensive circle near the goal line and beat Chad Johnson before he could drop to the ice. Ennis and Foligno have a combined 12 points at this point in the season, compared to 13 for Pominville.
The score was evened up. Both goalies had given up soft goals. Mikael Granlund would add to the lead with a snip on a 2-on-1 break with Daniel Winnik racing toward the net. Granlund had scored 2 goals in the third period of Monday’s game against the Devils, continued his point streak Wednesday.
Minnesota would get a power play shortly after taking the lead, and the suddenly hot power play didn’t take long to strike. After a great save at the Buffalo line by Jared Spurgeon, Eric Staal would continue the puck around the board from behind the net. Mikko Koivu would get the puck up to the point for Ryan Suter. Suter immediately went back to Koivu along the far half board. With Niederreiter in the slot and makign the blade of his stick available, Koivu sent a hard pass to Niederreiter that deflected in past Johnson for the 3-1 lead. It was Nino’s fifth goal in five games.
Housley elected to change netminders in the second period and called on Robin Lehner for the remainder of the game. The Sabres had a bit more step and cut the lead to one early in the second period. Jordan Nolan took a shot at the top of the right offensive circle that ricocheted off of Jonas Brodin’s stick and over Dubnyk’s glove. Normally, I’d give goalies the benefit of the doubt on deflections, but given that no one else was screening him on the shot and assuming he was square to the shot, there shouldn’t be a reason he couldn’t re-adjust the catching glove to the new trajectory of the puck. I’m no a goalie, but given the placement of the shot, I’ve seen countless other goalies make that save look easy, including Dubynk himself.
Niederreiter would net his second of the game and gain one back for the Wild. Nino went to the net while Staal headed for the puck behind the goal line. The key here was that Niederreiter stopped at the side of the net rather than doing a fly-by. He made himself available and Staal wasted no time to get him the puck. It was Nino’s 6th goal in 5 games and his 11 points in 12 games since returning from a high ankle sprain.
With Niederreiter threatening for a hat trick and the Wild on the power play, Granlund got back into the discussion. Granlund ventured from his normal half-board position in the right offensive circle. He circled the net and found himself tipping a shot from Koivu from top of Lehner’s crease. It was his 9th point in a five game span.
The Wild looked solidly in control with a three goal lead. That was until the 18:25 mark of the period when Sam Reinhart roofed one over Dubnyk two give the Sabres a fighting chance with 20 minutes to go.
The Wild, trying to play conservatively and nursing a 2 goal lead, was content to gain the red line and dump the puck in. There were few scoring chances created, and just 5 total shots on goal for Minnesota in the period. Jordan Nolan would get his second of the game from outside the right circle near the boards. He turned a put a shot on Dubnyk the beat him under the blocker. A truly horrendous goal to have given up without a body in front.
However, the Wild would hold on for the final 6:05 for the victory. They’d improve to 5-1-1 in their last 7 games. They’d also improve to 9-2 all-time in Buffalo. Minnesota’s once crap power play was 2-for-3 in the game and 7-for-15 in the last four games.
Mike Reilly didn’t see a shift in the third period and was benched after Nolan’s second goal. Boudreau said post game, “We gotta play to win tonight. This was a winnable game. We would have played with 2 defensemen if we needed to,” when asked about Reilly taking a seat. Reilly had 2 awful turnovers, a bad shift on the power play where his strengths should be highlighted, and a bad shift that ended with Nolan’s goal.
Dubnyk has a 2.66 GAA and a .916 save percentage. Outside of the Dubnyk Brick Trick, where he had three consecutive shutouts, the Wild haven’t seemed to keep other teams from scoring 4 goals per game.
The Wild will be off for Thanksgiving and host the Avalanche on Friday at 3:00 PM CST. From Hockey Wilderness, we wish each and every one of you faithful readers a very happy Thanksgiving. Please be careful and safe travels to everyone.