This game was a crazy one. If you like goals, you got plenty of goals. In what might have been the most entertaining game of the year thus far, Minnesota and Arizona combined for 13 goals as the Wild edged out the Coyotes 8-5 in their Thursday night clash.
The Wild entered the night 8-2-1 in the last 11 games at Gila River Arena, but there were a lot of questions coming into this game. How would Devan Dubnyk play in his first game since November 16? Jared Spurgeon also returned to the lineup in his usual spot next to Ryan Suter after missing the past seven games with an upper-body injury. How would his return go? Then, of course, the glaring and most obvious question coming into this game — how does Arizona change with Taylor Hall now injected into the lineup?
The first period was more of a snoozefest and seemed to be an outlier in what would turn out to be a fun and entertaining final 40 minutes. The glaring struggles of defenseman Matt Dumba continued as a bad gaffe behind the net resulted in an Arizona goal. With the game still scoreless, Dumba made a costly turnover trying to go D-to-D with his partner Brad Hunt behind Dubnyk’s cage. Christian Dvorak snatched up the Dumba board pass attempt, feeding Taylor Hall with a nice pass that eventually led to a Phil Kessel score. When “Phil the Thrill” gets an opportunity like this one in the slot, it’s almost automatic. The game’s fist tally came at the hand of the Coyotes’ new and infused first line.
Costly turnover by Matt Dumba behind the net. This is getting concerning, folks. pic.twitter.com/ooT3fnm95V— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 20, 2019
After getting outshot 17-6 in the first period, the Wild got things going early into the middle frame. In fact, they did so by scoring two goals on two shots.
Ryan Donato started the scoring by doing what Ryan Donato does best — shooting a puck on net. If it’s one thing the Wild have struggled with over the past several years, it’s been taking the shot rather than passing on an odd-man rush. Sometimes it pays off to be selfish. It paid off kindly for Donato after shrugging off Ryan Suter driving to the net and ripping one to beat Darcy Kuemper.
A little over a minute later, the Wild captured their first lead of the game with help from the fourth line of Marcus Foligno, Victor Rask and Ryan Hartman. But it was defenseman Carson Soucy who really made the play come together. Soucy caught an airborne puck and delivered a nice pass to Foligno, who was stationed around the crease. Foligno directed his feed to the net, and boom goes the dynamite.
Check out that nifty feed from Carson Soucy. This kid is really turning out to be a heck of a player. pic.twitter.com/jHdXWaj4Ye— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 20, 2019
Following a power-play goal that gave Jakob Chychrun his eight of the year, the Wild answered with another pair of goals in the middle period. First, the fourth line answered the call again for the Wild. This time it was Hartman after receiving a pass from linemate Foligno that sent him in all alone. With a quick release by Hartman, he tucked it just under the bar to beat Kuemper. It was a thing of beauty.
That release.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 20, 2019
Also, chalk up another assist for Carson Soucy. pic.twitter.com/w6EGnWCebs
Just a few minutes later, Mats Zuccarello sent a no look pass across the slot to Eric Staal who had a whole lot of net to shoot at. Easy tally for the veteran.
GOAL. Big slapper from Brad Hunt, then Zuccarello sends a perfect pass to Eric Staal for the score to double the Wild lead.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 20, 2019
If you thought the second period was entertaining, then, no pun intended, the third period was Wild.
Five goals between the two teams in the first few minutes of the final frame.
As good as the start of the second period was for the Wild, the Coyotes did almost the exact same thing. Arizona scored two goals in a matter of 3:22. Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored just as a power play was expiring with help from teammate Christian Dvorak, planted right in front of Dubnyk.
Arizona wasted no time in tying the game following their captain’s goal. On another power play, Chychrun scored his second goal of the night. His initial shot from the point was blocked by Zach Parise, but the Coyotes defenseman retrieved his own rebound and threw a soft puck back towards the net, beating a screened and confused Dubnyk.
Just when you thought the Wild were going to blow it, the team answered right back. They scored two goals within just a couple minutes of Chychrun’s tying tally and outscored the Coyotes 4-1 in the final 16 minutes of the hockey game.
Brad Hunt scored his sixth of the season and made Kuemper look like swiss cheese in the process. Mats Zuccarello (The Lizard King) snuck himself into the goal column next as he tapped home a backdoor feed from Eric Staal.
Clayton Keller would score to put some pressure back on the Wild, but steady man Ryan Suter showed off his goal-scoring touch and went forehand-to-backhand to beat the Coyotes netminder and recapture a two-goal lead for Minnesota. If you were to picture a Ryan Suter deke, dangle or dipsy-doo, this is exactly what you’d picture. Such a nonchalant move by the Wild veteran for his fourth of the year.
GOAL. Ryan Suter scores now.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 20, 2019
Arizona tried, but they couldn’t inch their way back. With an empty-net goal by Luke Kunin in the final seconds of the third, the Wild tied the franchise record (8) for goals in regular season game.
1. How will Devan Dubnyk perform in his (likely) return?
Pretty good. It’s hard to judge goaltenders in a matchup like this one, but Dubnyk came up big in stretches where the Wild needed him most. In the third period, he stopped a Taylor Hall breakaway with a flying poke check. Later in the third, he made another huge stop against Christian Dvorak, who was tearing it up all night. In crunch time, Dubnyk answered the bell. Huge win for Dubnyk in his first game in over a month.
2. Can the Wild shut down Taylor Hall?
Yes. In a game that saw a combined total of 13 goals, you’d expect Taylor Hall to put up decent numbers. The Wild limited him to just one assist in the contest. From the Wild’s perspective, I’d call that a win against a guy who won the Hart Trophy not too long ago.
3. Can the Wild overcome their injuries at forward?
Who needs Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker and Joel Erikkson Ek? For one night at least, the Wild were able to overcome their injuries at forward and put together a game where every line seemed to be chipping in. It was a challenge in previous games, but the Wild’s offense seems to come out no matter who is in the lineup when former Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper is mending the crease for the opposition. The fourth line of Foligno, Rask and Hartman really helped push the team over the hump on Thursday and led the team to a much-needed victory to finish off the road trip.
The Wild have played 23 of their first 36 games away from Xcel Energy Center. The team can now get a little more comfy at home, as they have the next 18 of 22 at home in St. Paul.
Next up, the sneaky hot right now Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.