The wait is finally over. Minnesota’s offense awoke in the second period against the Edmonton Oilers as the Wild snapped an eight game winless streak. Mikko Koivu (1 Goal, 1 Assist) and Marek Zidlicky (3 Assists) were the key contributors in a testy contest that saw the Wild give up the game’s first goal for the seventh time in nine games. However, the Wild were able to get back into the win column as they pulled away from the Oilers during an offensive laden second period.
Lets face it, the Wild were having some offensive woes as they had scored only 10 goals in their previous 8 contests.
Mikko Koivu’s presence was just what the Wild needed in order to get back to their winning ways. The Finnish center dazzled the Xcel Energy Center crowd by weaving through a couple of Oilers before firing a shot that beat Nikolai Khabibulin for a 1-1 tie. Check out the video below to see Koivu’s amazing puck handling abilities in his highlight-reel goal:
While Koivu started the scoring for the Wild against the Oilers, Minnesota used a blitzkrieg attack to set the pace for the rest of the game. Jarod Palmer set the tone midway through the second period as his shot beat the Oiler goalie on the glove hand side for his first NHL goal. Barely twenty seconds later, Pierre-Marc Bouchard came streaking down the right side and fired a shot that once again beat Khabibulin on the glove hand side and staked the Wild to a 3-1 lead. Even though Edmonton would get a goal back courtesy of Ladislav Smid, Dany Heatley made sure that the Wild did not lose any momentum heading into the third period as he tallied Minnesota’s fourth goal of the game just 46 seconds after Edmonton’s score.
While Minnesota’s offensive weapons (Bouchard, Koivu, Heatley) all potted goals in last night’s contest, it was the play of the Wild’s defensemen that allowed the team to skate away with two points. Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon combined for 5 points (all assists) as Minnesota’s defensive players contributed on the offensive side of score-sheet. Zidlicky’s puck management and movement was especially impressive and his efforts paid off as he registered three primary assists on the night.
On the other hand, Minnesota’s penalty kill was instrumental in their win against the Oilers. In a contest that featured a plethora of 4 on 4 play, the Wild were forced to kill penalties at key moments of the game and prevailed. Mikko Koivu was assessed a double minor for high sticking early in the second period, but the Wild penalty killers were up to the task when they were called upon. The PK was forced to take the ice once again as Justin Falk took a penalty for interference with less than 2 minutes remaining in the final frame, but the Wild held the fort despite being a man down and Edmonton pulling their goalie in favor of an extra attacker.
Head coach Mike Yeo was definitely content with the way that his team played and made it a point to address the emotion with which the Wild played against the Oilers. Enforcer Matt Kassian was recalled after Jared Spurgeon was drilled into the boards earlier in the week and the call-up had its benefits as Kassian fought Darcy Hordichuk twice. Kassian’s fists did the talking against Hordichuk as the Minnesota tough guy took down the Oiler’s enforcer not once, but two times. Even though Kassian celebrated his victories against Hordichuk with two different displays to the Minnesota crowd, his willingness to get physical with the opposition illustrated that the Wild were tired of being treated as doormats.
While chippy play between the two teams continued throughout the contest, the Wild kept their composure when it counted the most. Mike Yeo’s team has seemingly rediscovered their stride and identity in their last two games and it has paid off as they have gathered 3 out of a possible 4 points.
As long as the Wild keep playing physical and energetic hockey they will continue to generate scoring opportunities and make it harder on the opposition to pry two points away from their frozen clutches. Key defensive plays and quick scoring propelled Minnesota to a victory against the Oilers, but the Wild must make sure that they bring such 60 minute efforts to every hockey game. Mike Yeo had stated that the Wild needed to endure such a losing streak to learn something about themselves and they did just that. With the Wild getting off the schneid, look for the team to build on their efforts as they will be a tough opponent to beat if they are playing physical and motivated hockey.
Dany Heatley and Josh Harding get honorable mentions for their respective efforts in the last two games. Without their efforts in Wednesday night’s contest, it seems unlikely that Minnesota would walk away with a point against the Predators. Josh Harding stood tall against the Predators and Heatley’s effort to tie the game earned the Wild a crucial point that could help to determine playoff positioning at the end of the NHL season. Heatley and Harding have both made key contributions to the Wild this season and both players will be expected to keep up their strong play when their number is called upon throughout the 2011-2012 NHL season.