All season long, the Vegas Golden Knights have been the league’s improbable success story. Major League on ice. A rag-tag team of cast-offs, spare parts, and young players coming together to take the NHL by storm. Against all odds, they entered tonight’s action sitting on top of the Western Conference, just one point behind Tampa Bay for the best record in the NHL.
But tonight, they looked like, well... an expansion team.
Instead, the Minnesota Wild looked like the West’s standard-bearer, as they dominated a tired Vegas team from the opening face-off in a 5-2 victory.
Minnesota started off the game strong, with the Wild getting an early chance from Zach Parise off a fantastic breakout pass from Joel Eriksson Ek. That didn’t go in, but it set the tone for the kind of game the Wild would play that night.
Nino Niederreiter drew a penalty early in the first period, and started wearing the Knights down. Led by defensemen Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly, the Wild maintained pressure long after the power play had expired. Dumba in particular had a shift of a lifetime, executing no-look passes, taking blisteringly hard shots, and throwing his body around. That pressure didn’t result in a goal, but it did draw another penalty, courtesy of Joel Eriksson Ek.
It was on that second power play the Wild would finally get on the board. Eric Staal buried a beautiful cross-ice pass from Reilly to go up 1-0.
Minnesota didn’t let their foot off the gas. When Joel Eriksson Ek won an offensive zone draw 5 minutes later, Jonas Brodin grabbed the puck and found Charlie Coyle at the left face-off dot. Coyle made a perfect shot to beat Malcolm Subban. That would cap off the scoring for Minnesota, and they led the Knights 2-0 at the end of the first period.
But the Wild were still not content to merely sit on their lead. Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund started off the period buzzing Subban. Within 70 seconds, Brodin had forced a turnover at the Wild’s blue line. Ennis found the puck and ran with it, beating Subban cleanly on a 3-on-2.
While Niederreiter sparked the events that led to Minnesota’s first goal, he did the same for Vegas. He committed a hooking penalty, and the Knights got their first power play of the night. Former Wild Erik Haula re-directed Colin Miller’s point shot to score his 20th goal of the season. It was the first time Haula had reached the 20-goal mark, and with 39 points on the season, he’s already eclipsed his career-high with just 47 games this season.
The tide didn’t turn towards Vegas’ favor, and Minnesota would get a power play with 5 minutes remaining in the second. The Wild converted in the waning seconds of the man advantage, as Jared Spurgeon scored from the slot. It capped a dominant 40 minutes for the Wild, who ended the second out-shooting the Knights 30-13.
And, of course, leading 4-1.
The Wild finally let off the gas a bit in the third period, and Vegas got a couple of power play opportunities. Nate Schmidt would find a puck that came off the boards, and scored from the goal line.
The Knights got back into striking distance, but when they pulled Subban for the extra attacker, the Wild finished Vegas off. Dumba dumped a puck along the boards for Staal to chase, but when Staal went for the puck, David Perron hooked Staal, impeding him from a potential empty-net chance. Staal was then awarded a goal, ending the scoring.
Vegas may be an expansion team, and they may not truly be the best team in the West. But don’t be fooled, they are a good team, one that certainly deserves their spot as a playoff team. Given that, this win should be extremely encouraging for the Wild, especially after another dominant win against Columbus on Tuesday.
Minnesota is going to have to have their own struggles tomorrow night against Dallas. They were able to take advantage of a Vegas squad that travelled after playing Winnipeg last night. Can Minnesota avoid the same letdown against the Stars? We’ll see, and we’ll have coverage of tomorrow’s game here on Hockey Wilderness.
- How good was Jonas Brodin tonight? He had 3 assists, but was also extremely noticeable. He was jumping into the play, taking shots, and even having a play where he took a puck in his own zone and carried it all the way into the offensive zone before passing to Ennis.
- Brodin has been on fire lately, notching 10 points in his previous 15 games. He had just 5 points in his first 36 contests. If the Brodin we’ve seen lately is the real Brodin, the Wild are going to be good down the stretch.
- Also good tonight: Matt Dumba, who had 2 assists. He now has 28 points in 51 games.
- Dumba’s Points-Per-Game by season:
You can’t argue with that improvement.
- With both Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter at or near career-highs in Points-Per-Game, the story with the Wild lately should be the offense from their blue line. According to the Wild’s PR squad, they lead the league in points from their defensemen.
- Mikael Granlund (4), Mikko Koivu (4), and Jason Zucker (3) combined for 11 shots on goal tonight. They didn’t score, but they were dominant.
- The only Wild players to be out-attempted tonight: Ryan Suter (18 attempts for, 19 against), and Nate Prosser (6 for, 11 against).
- Charlie Coyle is riding a 2-game goal streak. One reason? He’s registered 9 shots on goal over the last 2 games. His 5 tonight were the most he’s had since he had 6 in Game 1 vs. St. Louis last year.
- In Nino Niederreiter’s first game back from injury, he out-attempted the Knights 19-9. That was a team-best 68%. Never change, Nino.
- Eric Staal now has 34 goals in his last 82 games. The last time he scored 34 goals in a season? The 2008-09 season. He scored 40 that year as a 24-year-old.
- Just for fun, the Wild’s leader in goals that season? Owen Nolan, with 25.
- Joel Eriksson Ek has just 1 goal on 80 shots- a 1.25% shooting percentage. No other forward has been that snakebit this season. Eriksson Ek leads all forwards with 1 or fewer goals by 36 shots (William Carrier and Jussi Jokinen each have 44.)
- One final note: Mike Reilly looked noticeable tonight, in a good way, and not just on the power play. Reilly tried making things happen, and it led to good things.