With the Wild set to begin a string of games without Zach Parise, coach Mike Yeo spent the past two days asking for a renewed focus defensively and for “guys” to step up.
After Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over the reigning Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Yeo said, “Those guys didn’t have to be forwards.”
Devan Dubnyk, maligned lately for inconsistent play and sub-.900 save percentage, unfettered last year’s Dubnyk by posting a sterling 31-save shutout, his second this season and 16th of his career.
Dubnyk was clutch all night, robbing Tyler Johnson, Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn in the first period, denying Nikita Kucherov on a short breakaway and Vladislav Namestnikov with a glove save in the third period and making back-to-back-to-back stops four seconds apart in the final five seconds of the game on Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos.
“It’s nice to be able to pay these guys back a little bit,” said Dubnyk, who has three of the Wild’s 18 all-time 1-0 wins. “They’ve scored four and five goals for me in some wins this year, and they worked real hard for me tonight.”
Dubnyk, who lost to Nashville two nights earlier, challenged shooters, tracked pucks and was quick. It was his 51st start for the Wild, and he has yet to suffer consecutive losses in regulation.
“He was on,” Yeo said. “I don’t want to say more aggressive, but he was almost attacking some of the shots.”
Two other good signs were the play of struggling Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund. Pominville extended his season-long goal drought to 13 games, but he was around the net, forechecked hard and meshed well with workhorse Charlie Coyle, who took Parise’s spot on the left side.
It was Coyle and Pominville who assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s goal 26 seconds into the second period. It was Coyle who drew a first-period penalty after a strong forecheck by Pominville and Granlund.
Coyle said, “I think it worked well. It was a good first game.” Yeo agreed, saying, “That’s Charlie’s best game and the whole line’s best game in a while.”
The Wild did a tremendous job on Stamkos, who had a tough night by inexplicably tripping twice and finishing with three shots. Yeo threw both Mikko Koivu’s and Granlund’s line against him, and Stamkos got a heavy dose of Ryan Suter and Spurgeon.
“Duby did a great job. It starts with him. He was solid,” Suter said. “Everybody chipped in. It takes five guys to shut top players down.”
Christoph Bertschy was called up to make his NHL debut. To make his integration easier, trainers gave him a stall between Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter. Bertschy speaks Swiss-German. Niederreiter, his Swiss countryman, and Vanek both speak German. Bertschy had a giant mop of hair that Niederreiter made clear is “not typically Swiss.”
The 21-year-old played well. He started the game with Vanek and Erik Haula and finished with Chris Porter and Ryan Carter. Those three brought energy and physicality to both lines.
Still, with big, tough Winnipeg coming Tuesday, the Wild might consider switching Bertschy and bruising Kurtis Gabriel for his NHL debut. Bertschy was sent down after the game, although that’s partially for the cap-strapped Wild to save two days of cap space with two days off.
With Parise out, the Wild may have a lot of games like this one. “They’re going to be low-scoring games [without Parise],” Suter said. “It might be good for us that we can focus on playing defense now.”
Goaltending like Saturday won’t hurt, either.
“He showed what he was capable of last year,” Suter said. “Tonight, he definitely showed it.”