Every goal looks pretty on paper. At least that’s what Brandon Duhaime will have to tell his grandkids one day when he recounts his first NHL goal.
It’ll probably be a long story -- one where it builds on itself as he talks about his battles in training camp to crack the NHL roster for the first time. He’ll meander through his first NHL game and how he was robbed of his first goal when it was removed from the scoreboard due to a goaltender interference review.
However, the actual story of the goal itself, how it tied the game at one at the 7:11 mark of the first period, will be more like the punchline of a stand-up comedian’s joke than a story of skill and finesse.
After surrendering the first goal of the game for the fourth consecutive time, Minnesota was pressuring in the offensive zone. The fourth line, composed of Duhaime, Nico Sturm, and Nick Bjugstad were providing that pressure. It was a strange game in that the scoring lines had mostly been neutralized. The line of Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Kirill Kaprizov, who were dominant just a few nights earlier and connected for 10 points in the thrilling overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets, seemed just a bit off battling the Anaheim Ducks.
Outside of that win over the Jets, it’s been the Wild’s depth leading the charge. Duhaime’s line has dominated the play through five games when they’ve been on the ice at 5-on-5. That trend continued through Saturday night when that line controlled 70% of the shots on goal, 85.71% of the high-danger scoring chances, and 81.14% of the expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. That line may be getting limited minutes compared to the top nine, but that kind of production from the line shows that they aren’t a liability when they’re on the ice. Additionally, a coach typically uses the fourth line as that “energy line” and one that can change momentum.
Head coach Dean Evason is getting that much and more from that line this early in the season.
Evason has a line that can flip the ice to the Wild’s favor. “It’s one thing to have the coach’s trust you, but you have to do the things to build that trust, and he has. That line was good,” Evason said following the win over the Ducks. It was such a good performance that Evason admitted that they didn’t get that line on the ice nearly as much as they should as a coaching staff.
The Wild coach followed through and added minute in Sunday night’s loss to the Nashville Predators. The trio plays a simple game. All three are capable of shooting the puck, but they finish their checks and crash the net. And it paid off on the scoreboard as well. Both Bjugstad and Sturm scored the only goals for Minnesota in an otherwise lopsided game. Duhaime led the team in expected goals percentage as well as scoring chances and shots. It’s been an impressive rise.
|2021-10-15 - Wild 2, Ducks 1||7.366666667||89.47||8||0||100||97.67||100||100|
|2021-10-16 - Wild 3, Kings 2||11.35||30.77||6||10||37.5||45.75||26.67||33.33|
|2021-10-19 - Jets 5, Wild 6||4.25||70||5||2||71.43||73.11||66.67||100|
|2021-10-23 - Ducks 3, Wild 4||5.65||55.56||7||3||70||81.14||77.78||85.71|
|2021-10-24 - Predators 5, Wild 2||6.6||86.67||5||1||83.33||75.29||80||66.67|
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
So when the line does their thing in the offensive zone, shots will be taken at the net. Add in their crash-the-net mentality, and it’s clear why they’re putting up such gaudy numbers early in the season. Good things generally happen with that group on the ice.
It’s no surprise that Duhaime got his first NHL goal by going to the top of the crease. And while his goal may have been dubbed “the ugliest first goal” by his head coach or has become the subject of a bit of ribbing from teammates, he was in the right spot at the right time. The fact that he didn’t have his stick in his hands or that he was preoccupied with picking it up at the time the shot from Sturm came his way are only minor details to the overall story.
It’ll forever be a funny memory for him and his teammates. The record books don’t ask how they went in. However, don’t expect anything to change. It might have been a funny, fluky goal, but it was the result of the same mentality that made him and his line immediately successful this season.