There is an old saying somewhere, pretty sure it’s written on stone tablets, that states: There are few certainties in life except Death and Taxes, and the Wild destroying the Buffalo Sabres in January. (Credit goes out to HW editor Tony for that joke). But it’s mostly true. The Wild, in the last 5 seasons are 3-1 in four games against the Sabres including a 7-0 win in Devan Dubnyk’s debut with the Wild.
January 2014 - 4-1 W
January 2015 - 7-0 W
January 2016 - 3-2 L
January 2018 - 6-2 W
Fast forward to Thursday night. Minnesota finally iced a fully healthy line-up for the first time this season. It’s game 41. Nino Niederreiter was the last one to return from injury, and, boy, he had a hell of a night. It took just 69 nice seconds for Niederreiter to find the net and open the scoring for Minnesota. The Wild were on the forecheck and the puck was rimmed around to the trapezoid area behind the Sabre net manned by Robin Lehner. Nino floated out to the inner rim of the left offensive circle and Mikael Granlund, given time to work behind the net, found him with a centering feed to beat Lehner.
Daniel Winnik then scored 1:06 later on the Wild’s third shot of the game. He continued the depth scoring trend from the fourth line. Nate Prosser gave Winnik a pass in the neutral zone as Winnik built up some speed. He drove the defender back and let go a wrist shot that beat Lehner cleanly over the glove for a quick 2-0 Wild lead.
Minnesota then eased up off the gas pedal. The Sabres pushed and eventually made the shot clock work. At one point, the Wild failed to achieve a shot on goal for nearly 8 minutes. This came just before Rasmus Ristolainen hit Mikko Koivu up high and received a major interference penalty and game misconduct. The contact to the head caused a gash on Koivu’s upper lip that needed a zipper.
Niederreiter would eventually score before the major power play expired for his second of the game. Jared Spurgeon’s shot was tipped wide left of the net by Charlie Coyle. However, Niederreiter was crashing down the left side and found the loose puck and then the back of the net. Minnesota took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission with just only 8 shots on goal.
Minnesota played much more sound defensively and in the neutral zone in the second period. Though, the offense was a bit tougher to come by in the first handful of minutes as the Sabres tried to hit the reset button. Niederreiter got his hat trick just four minutes into the period. Koivu worked the end-boards on the forecheck. He peeled the puck off the boards and into the slot for Mikael Granlund. Granlund, a left handed shot, was on his backhand with a defender draped all over him. Instead, Granlund moved puck for Nino to score into a yawning net.
Niederreiter, acquired in a trade for Cal Clutterbuck from the Islanders, became the highest scoring Swiss-born player in the NHL, passing Mark Streit with his 96th, 97th, and 98th career goals. The hat trick and the passing of Streit were all done in front of his parents, who were in attendance.
Koivu would add to the lead with a goal of his own. It was a snap shot from the left offensive circle on which Lehner had almost no chance. The Niederreiter - Koivu - Granlund line combined for 9 points. Charlie Coyle would make it 6-0 and help Zach Parise notch his first point of the season. Parise corralled the puck behind the net. He then made a move to the front of the net and attempted to tuck the puck in far side. The puck rolled off Parise’s stick and over to Coyle, whose only job was to not miss.
Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane eventually added a couple goals in garbage time in the third period for the Sabres as the Wild clearly called off the dogs. The Wild would win 6-2 in a mostly dominating fashion - its fourth January victory over the Sabres in the last 5 years.
The story is Nino’s hat trick. It was his second hat trick of his career, the first coming against the Sabres as well. For his career, Niederreiter has 8 goals versus Buffalo. It’s the third Wild hat trick this season. Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund were the last players to score three goals in a game. Minnesota improves to 13-7-2 against Buffalo.
Parise has been back now for two games and the Wild have shown some incredible improvement. Minnesota is not just winning games, but have done a lot of things winning hockey teams do. Is it the new found glory that is scoring depth? Is it just merely a coincidence?