After a day where a big goalie trade grabbed the headlines, it was a fourth-line forward brought in for a third-round pick who stole the show, as well as a veteran netminder who saw his starting role given away to a future hall-of-famer that helped the Minnesota Wild shut out their playoff nemesis from a season ago, the Vegas Golden Knights, by the score of 3-0. Nicolas Deslauriers had a strong debut for his new team, earning the game-winning goal and showing off his physical style with some bone-rattling that set the tone early. Meanwhile, Cam Talbot, who got the start only because newly-acquired Marc-Andre Fleury joined the Wild just hours before puck drop, stopped all 28 shots he faced and extended his winning streak to five games. Matt Dumba added a goal in the third period and Ryan Hartman sealed the win with a late empty netter.
In his Wild debut, Deslauriers made an immediate impact (literally) with a nice check on the forecheck to generate a scoring chance on his first shift, and doubled down a couple minutes later by scoring the first goal of the game on a one-handed pass from Tyson Jost and a one-time pass from Brandon Duhaime.
Wild GM Bill Guerin’s moves were made to make the Wild a bit more physical to play against in the playoffs, and that grit is already beginning to show itself. Not only did Deslauriers show the “skillset” he brings to the game, but Matt Dumba also took some inspiration and leveled a huge hit on William Karlsson.
Dumba’s hit got under the skin of Vegas, and Johnathan Marchissault took exception later. The two got tangled behind the play as the puck entered the Vegas zone, and the referees inexplicably stopped the action to call matching minors just as Kevin Fiala found the back of the net. The goal was immediately disallowed, and the two teams went four-on-four.
Goligoski got nabbed for slashing putting Vegas on a four-on-three, but the Wild killed off the extra penalty.
Meanwhile, the Wild’s new-look third line kept up the pressure, thanks primarily to Deslauriers. The former Anaheim Duck laid another big offensive zone check on Ben Hutton before nearly earning his second goal of the game, but somehow Hutton managed to earn a measure of revenge, swatting the puck out of the air before it crossed the goaline behind Vegas netminder Logan Thompson.
I’m not sure I’m on board with Brett Marshall’s nickname for the new-look fourth line, but you can’t argue with the first period production...
In the second, Fiala had his second good chance of the game, turning on the speed to beat Zachary Hayes and bring the puck in on Thompson, who was up to the task. Later, Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello came in on a two-on-one, but the Vegas defense broke up the pass.
Then it was Vegas’ turn to put on the pressure, thanks to some Wild turnovers and some long shifts from the Wild defenders. But Talbot made the best of his start with Flower on the bench, making a series of impressive saves, including a side-to-side stretch to deny a Marchessault wraparound after a Fiala turnover.
The Wild had an opportunity to extend their lead when Nicolas Roy went to the box for tripping Mats Zuccarello. But while the Wild’s second unit dominated the zone time and Fiala had a very strong shift on the man advantage, Minnesota wasn’t able to find the back of the net.
After the Wild ended the first with a 15-6 shot advantage, the Golden Knights tightened up the deficit with a 13-9 advantage of their own, and dominated the expected goals for percentage 61.9% to 38.12% (after the Wild owned the xGF% advantage 76.3-23.7% in the first).
In the third, the Wild killed off a penalty to stay perfect on the kill over their last three. Minutes later, Matt Dumba picked up the puck on a broken zone entry from Joel Eriksson Ek, and buried a wrister past Thompson with Marcus Foligno providing a tricky screen, giving the Wild a two-goal lead.
The Golden Knights had their best chance to get within one off a skate-deflected shot that was later tipped by Karlsson that hit the side of the net next to Talbot. At the end of the shift after a Talbot freeze, Delauriers dragged Karlsson out of Talbot’s crease with all of the vigor of a teenager tasked with taking the recycling out on trash day.
With Thompson pulled, the Wild had two chances to ice the game, once by Dumba just inside the blue line, and another by Duhaime who also missed wide. Vegas continued to try to get the game back within one, but Talbot stopped Karlsson point blank, continuing his strong effort. Finally, Marcus Foligno forced a mid-ice turnover, and Hartman ripped the puck into the empty net to put the game out of reach.
Granted, this isn’t the Golden Knights of 2021, nor is it even the same Vegas squad of 2022 with much of the roster out with illness or injury - Vegas missed Brayden McNabb (arm), Reilly Smith (undisclosed) and Mark Stone (LTIR - upper body), and just prior to puck drop placed middle-six forward Michael Amadio and top-pairing defenseman Zach Whitecloud into the COVID protocol. But Bill Guerin had to like what he saw from not only Deslauriers, but also Tyson Jost, who had his best game in a Wild uniform with an assist, a 66% win rate in the faceoff dot, two shots on goal and a 64 CF%.
And of course, Fleury looked rocked that green in pregame warmups and on the bench. No word on how Jacob Middleton looked in the press box, but reports are saa-weeet.
The longest homestand in Wild history resumes on Thursday as Minnesota welcomes another recent playoff foe in the Vancouver Canucks, likely with Fleury taking the ice in his Wild debut.
Does new tough guy Nic Deslauriers make anybody cry?
Our newest writer, Grace, mentioned in the preview that she loves chaos and was therefore excited to see what Deslauriers would bring, and I have to guess what Nic provided fit the bill. Big hits, a big goal (with a fantastic celly), nearly another one and hilariously dragging Karlsson by his scruff away from Talbot.
Are you not entertained?!
So, tears of fear? No. But tears of joy and laughter - maybe, just maybe.
How’s Cam going to take his demotion?
Really, really well. Talbot made some nifty saves, but generally just held down the defensive zone with a level of poise and confidence that we haven’t seen in a bit (and may not see again for a while if/when Fleury starts getting the bulk of the action). Guerin told reporters today that he wasn’t concerned about Talbot’s reaction, and that he’s a conssumate professsional. And Cam didn’t show anything to refute that claim, earning his second shutout of the year in a game where Vegas had quite a few chances, especially in the third, to equalize.
If Talbot can continue to flourish in the 1A or backup role with Fleury bouncing back behind a stronger defensive corps than he had in Chicago, the future just might be pretty bright for the Minnesota Wild.