With the calendar about to flip to the new year, fans at the Xcel Energy Center got to party like it was 2016 on Friday night. Exactly one year after Minnesota put the finishing touches on a franchise-record 12-game winning streak, the Wild looked every bit like the squad they iced last season.
For one night, at least, the sputtering offense Wild fans had been accustomed to seeing disappeared. Minnesota amassed scoring chances en route to a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators, one of the better teams in the league.
They took the game tonight by sticking to the formula that gave them so much success last year: Good goaltending, a defense that steers attackers away from the scoring areas, and a star performance or two.
Let’s start with the performance of Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk returned from a 9-game absence due to a lower-body injury. It was the first major injury of Dubnyk’s tenure with the Wild, and when you combine it with his slow start, there was cause for concern to be had with Minnesota’s aging goalie.
But Dubnyk showed no signs of rust Friday. In fact, it’s the best he’s looked since his 3-game shutout streak in early November. Dubnyk shut the door on the Predators, even as they pressed in the second and third periods, stopping 41 of 43 shots.
As mentioned earlier, Dubnyk got plenty of help from his defense. On the surface, surrendering 43 shots through the course of the game seems like they did a poor job. But take a look at where the shots were coming from, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Predators got their shots, but their chances? Not so much. They only picked up a few looks at the net, and they got no offense in the slot. That’s very much the way Minnesota operated last season- you’d get your shots, but the net would be well-defended. It worked tonight, as the Predators scored just one goal at 5-on-5.
And then we have the star performances. The scoring started when Matt Dumba fished a loose rebound from a Matt Cullen shot. Once Dumba got the rebound, he fed it to Granlund, who one-timed it past Pekka Rinne. P.K. Subban would tie it up mid-way through the period, but a Nick Bonino high-stick would give the momentum back to Minnesota.
On the ensuing power play, Granlund entered the zone, dished the puck to Jared Spurgeon, and immediately cut towards the net. Spurgeon found Granlund, who beat Pekka Rinne with a quick wrist shot.
Granlund kept up the aggression all night, amassing 7 shots- not including a post he hit in the third period. He would be rewarded late in the game, when he sprung towards the net and broke away for an empty net goal to seal the game.
The other big performance was from Matt Dumba, who was a force tonight. Dumba made several great efforts tonight to collect loose pucks in the offensive zone. One came on the assist to Granlund’s first game. Another would have earned him a goal, had referees not called it back for goaltender interference on the part of Eric Staal.
Dumba would get rewarded with a goal that counted in the second period, though. Dumba took a pass from Jonas Brodin at the blue line, then made a fancy move around a defender, drifted to the left side of the slot, and unleashed a bomb past Rinne. The Wild went up 3-1 to end the second.
Nashville would press for the rest of the game, rendering the Wild mostly ineffective in the third. A Koivu trip to end the second put Minnesota on the wrong foot to start the third, but a dirty slash from Dubnyk put them at a 51 second 5-on-3 disadvantage. The Wild would kill the 5-on-3, but Kyle Turris would make the Wild pay before Dubnyk’s penalty had expired.
Dubnyk and the Wild would hold on, however, and the Wild sealed the deal on the empty net goal. It was the second hat trick of Granlund’s career.
- I feel like most people would think Granlund’s had a disappointing season thus far, compared to his 69-point effort last season. But after tonight, he has 27 points in 33 games, which works out to 0.81 points per game. Last year, Granlund had 0.85 points per game.
- His goals per game (0.33) is, believe it or not, higher than it was last year (0.32)
- Granlund is doing this without as much luck as he had last season. Not only did Granlund shoot 16% last season, but the Wild shot 10.4% with him on the ice at 5-on-5. This year, Granlund’s shooting 13%, and had a 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage of just 7.1 entering tonight. Despite that, he’s still performing to last year’s standards.
- This is partly due to Granlund shooting significantly more than last year. Granlund has 85 shots this season- 2.6 per game. This is up from just 2.2 last season.
- That’s all to say that last year’s breakout doesn’t appear to be a fluke.
- Now on to Matt Dumba. Since November 1st, he has 7 goals and 18 points in 28 games. He’s averaging almost 2 shots per game in that span.
- He’s now on pace for 15 goals and 45 points. How many defensemen at age 23 or younger have hit those numbers since the 04-05 lockout? Just 7. Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Mike Green, Drew Doughty, Justin Faulk, and Shayne Gostisbehere.
- Another fun comparison: Matt Dumba’s in his 4th NHL season. What did Brent Burns do in his 4th NHL season? Burns notched... 13 goals and 45 points. Now where did I put that thinking emoji?
- Tyler Ennis may have just 2 points since he was a healthy scratch on December 12th, but in those 8 games, he has 19 shots. Not bad for someone who gets 11 minutes a night.
- For those keeping score of Minnesota’s goalies
Dubnyk: .916 save percentage
Alex Stalock: .915 save percentage
- Minnesota’s win kept them in a Wild Card position, and they’ve done it without their yearly 2-3 month run from Dubnyk. If Dubnyk can rediscover that form, this team makes the playoffs.
- Former Wild draft pick Craig Smith had 11 shots tonight. 0 goals. 0 points. Better luck next time, Craig.