Is the… swoon… [looks around]… over?
The thing about Wild swoons is that even after the team has been playing well for several games in a row and has actually started to rack up some wins—as is the case currently for Minnesota, which has now won three of its last four—there’s still a fear that it could fall right back into the abyss with a single poor performance. So, although it very much feels that this squad has finally turned a corner and is ready to start winning consistently again, a level of cautiousness still remains throughout the Wilderness.
The latest victory over the Ottawa Senators was the opposite of a lot of the games Minnesota lost in the heart of the swoon. In its darkest times, the Wild, desperate to get things going the right way, would play well enough to absolutely deserve a victory, but find a way to fall short seemingly every night. In the last two games, though, the Wild have probably not fully deserved victories, but have come away with two Canadian road W’s in a row. That’s as good an indication as any that self-confidence has finally returned to the Wild dressing room, and this team truly is done swooning.
Here are the three things we learned from the Wild’s 4-3 win over Ottawa on Saturday.
Thing 1: Jared Spurgeon Can (Sort Of) Fill Matt Dumba’s Shoes On Offense
With Dumba, Minnesota’s top-scoring defenseman, out with a long-term pec injury, the question arose as to who on the blueline would take the reigns in helping with offensive production. Throughout the swoon, the question remained mostly unanswered, but so far on this road trip, Spurgeon has stepped up in a huge way.
After scoring a huge tying goal in Toronto on Thursday and adding two assists in that game, Spurgeon got Minnesota on the board early in Saturday’s second period with a beautiful dipsy doodle move to tuck the puck around Anders Nilsson. He followed that up by pinching in from the point to keep the puck in the zone with about three minutes left in the same frame, then got a pass back from Charlie Coyle and ripped a high bad-angle shot that eventually trickled through Nilsson. Spurgeon’s second of the day gave the Wild a critical 3-2 lead, a lead that Minnesota would never give back.
While Spurgeon doesn’t have the big shot that Dumba has, he does have the offensive chops and slick mitts to produce consistently, especially when he’s sneaking down from the point and finding quiet spaces to activate himself in the offensive zone. So, although he may not fully fill Dumba’s shoes offensively (one would assume his feet are much smaller after all), with five points in his last two games, Spurgeon is demonstrating that he is definitely the team’s best candidate to at least partially fill the void.
Thing 2: A Fickle Beast, Chemistry Is
Bruce Boudreau has always been a big-time line juggler. He tinkers and shuffles until he’s extremely red in the face, which usually happens pretty quickly when things aren’t going Minnesota’s way. After nearly a month of struggling to find even one trio of players that could bring any kind of consistency, Boudreau finally seems to have found a winning combo in Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, and Luke Kunin.
It’s truly beautiful to see Kunin suddenly producing, now that he’s been given linemates with whom he meshes well. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be skating alongside the Wild’s best player and a veteran star in Parise, and Coyle has been outstanding for a while now. But with a youngster like Kunin—one who many expect to be a key player for the organization for many years to come—now showing the moxy to chip-in at both ends and perform well in a top-six role, Minnesota’s lineup as a whole suddenly looks a lot deeper.
Parise scored the eventual game winner Saturday, with assists on the play from both Coyle and Kunin. ZP now has 19 goals and 19 assists on the year, Kunin—after going pointless in his first seven games with the big club—has four points in four games, and Coyle has six points in four games.
Thing 3: Blocked Shots Can Be Totally Cool
It’s typical for a team to mob its goalie after the final horn of a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire type of game. What’s not typical is seeing a goalie mob a fourth line grinder at the horn to congratulate him for putting his body on the line to help seal a victory.
That’s what happened Saturday, though, as with Minnesota at a six-on-four disadvantage with Mikko Koivu in the box and Nilsson pulled, Bobby Ryan took a last-second crack at Minnesota’s net. Eric Fehr slid in front of the shot and deflected it away, thwarting Ottawa’s last chance to level the score. With Fehr lying on the ice in pain and the game officially over, Dubnyk raced out to him. The victorious netminder helped Fehr up and congratulated him, as the rest of the team quickly gathered around both Dubnyk and Fehr.
It was a pretty awesome sight, following a pretty awesome couple of Minnesota wins.