It’s not exactly ideal that Jason Zucker is the only guy who has been able to score for the Wild for three games running. Still, the attitude in the locker room after a 1-0 win over Philadelphia was: Whatever works.
Excellent defense meant the Wild didn’t need more than Zucker’s goal 68 seconds into the third period Saturday. The team still has some problems to solve—that lack of scoring from everyone else, and an anemic power play that has scored twice in its past 33 chances—but winning consecutive games for only the second time this season was a relief.
Several Flyers players talked after the game about how well the Wild blocked shots, clogged the middle and slowed down the Philly offense. The Flyers have been a one-line team, but that one line—Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek—has been tremendous, with 23 goals and 60 points. The trio got nine shots on goal Saturday with nothing to show for it.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk got his second consecutive shutout, stopping 32 shots to go with the 41 he turned away in Thursday’s 3-0 win at Montreal. Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol thought his team could have shot more in the first period and could have created more net-front traffic as the game wore on. Couturier agreed, but added that the game was “a grind’’ and “a battle’’ because of the unyielding Wild defense.
“They came back hard to the middle and protected the front of the net,’’ he said. “They took away cross-ice passes and shooting lanes. There wasn’t a lot of space out there. It was almost like a playoff game early in the year.’’
Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said his team has to take a different approach Tuesday, when the teams meet again at Xcel Energy Center.
“They played pretty much five guys packed right in front of the net,’’ he said. “We probably needed to maybe pop a guy out or pop a guy up top or something. … At some point, you have to force it into the net. Whether it’s driving the net and having three guys whacking at it or something, something has to break. We have to work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter.’’
Some other observations on Saturday’s game:
--Flyers goalie Brian Elliott had a solid game, too. He made 26 saves, including some tough ones, but was victimized by a weird bounce on Zucker’s goal.
It started with Matt Dumba’s shot from the right point, which hit the stick of a Flyers player and then ricocheted off the end boards. The puck caromed behind the net to the other side, and with Elliott out of position, Zucker had an open net to shoot at. Zucker said the puck came to him with a lot of spin and that it was a “lucky bounce’’ when his shot hit Elliott and went in.
Here’s Elliott’s take on it:
“I think it deflected off the boards and kind of right to the back post. So you’re just trying to get over there and cover. And it just went off me at a weird angle and went in. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, I guess.’’
--Dubnyk’s shutout streak has lasted 135 minutes, five seconds. He stopped 73 shots in the two victories and has 26 career shutouts, 17 of those with the Wild. Dubnyk had three consecutive shutouts last season from Oct. 25-29.
“When everything feels like things are down, and everything is piling up, you just have to go back,’’ he said. “And maybe it’s one push here or one stop there, and things turn around. This is how I’m used to feeling in net. I’ll try to hang onto it as long as I can.’’
--Zucker has scored all six of the Wild’s goals in the past three games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Zucker is the first NHL player to score six consecutive goals since Glen Murray (Boston) from Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 2004. One more would equal the league record of seven, jointly held by Cy Denneny (Ottawa, from Feb. 28-March 7, 1921) and Brian Noonan (Chicago, Dec. 27-29, 1991).
“Hang around the net, do some little things well and get a win,’’ Zucker said, giving the best explanation he could come up with for his stunning streak.
--After blocking 28 shots against Montreal, the Wild blocked 18 on Saturday. Of those, 11 came in the third period; three were in the final minute, from Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Eric Staal—who got in front of Shayne Gostisbehere’s attempt with one second left.
“We got some huge blocks in the third period,’’ Dubnyk said. “It felt like (Suter) was just eating pucks left and right. Those are big plays.’’
This road trip ends my temporary stint as the Wild beat writer. Our new reporter, Sarah McLellan, will start in the middle of next week. She’s been covering the Coyotes for the past five seasons and was born in Canada; she knows the game well and loves it as much as all of you do. She’s going to be great. Give her a follow on Twitter: @sarah_mclellan
I’ll still do some NHL coverage from time to time, and I’ll be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to cover the Winter Olympics (including a men’s hockey tournament with no NHL players, which will be interesting. Maybe not good, but interesting.)
Thanks for reading the Star Tribune!