After losing to a down and out San Jose Sharks team at home on Saturday, the Minnesota Wild were tasked with a much tougher opponent on Wednesday night, the Vancouver Canucks.
In his first game behind the bench as interim head coach, Dean Evason’s team could not find the back of the net. On Wednesday night, things changed for the better, as Evason finally earned his first win as a NHL head coach after spending 13 years as a player in the league and coaching in various leagues and in the NHL as an assistant for the previous 22 years. The 55-year-old and the Minnesota Wild were able to top the Canucks on the road in Vancouver, squeaking out a 4-3 victory in a shootout, with help from none other than Alex Galchenyuk.
The Wild struck first and early. A mere one minute and three seconds into the hockey game, Wild forward Kevin Fiala, who has been quiet of late, roofed a snapshot over the shoulder of Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Fiala used a nifty move to his advantage, using a toe-and-pull shot. This deceptive drag and shoot technique changes the angle of the shot, making it more difficult for goaltenders to read, which was apparent when watching it back from the viewpoint of the Canucks goaltender. Players like Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews use this technique often, so it’s good to see a player of Fiala’s skill level incorporating this into his game.
Devan Dubnyk stood on his head early and denied many chances from the top line of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Tyler Toffoli. The biggest save of the first frame was a huge save on a Miller breakaway. Dubnyk looked confident and rejuvenated in net, pushing aside all ten shots in the first.
Vancouver starts the second with some fire. Youngster Quinn Hughes dished a nice pass through Jonas Brodin on a two-on-one to find Jay Beagle on his forehand. From there, the fourth liner beat a sliding Dubnyk to the far post, slipping it by for his second goal of the season.
Hunt centered a saucer pass to a centering and crashing Luke Kunin whom one-timed the pass towards the nets. Kunin’s shot squeaked through Markstrom to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.
The third period took a turn in the wrong direction for the Minnesota Wild.
Within five minutes, a 2-1 lead turned into a 3-2 deficit at the hands of J.T Miller scoring not one goal, but a pair of goals to open the third period to give the Canucks their first lead. The first of two started with a simple shot-pass near the blue line from newcomer Tyler Toffoli to Miller ready in the slot for a redirection. Miller’s deflection barely beat Dubnyk, as the puck softly slid through the net minders five hole. The assists on the goal came from Toffoli, his first point as a Canuck, and Hughes, his 39th tally on the year giving him the outright lead in that category for rookies this year.
The second J.T. Miller goal came three minutes and 15 seconds later after what seemed to be a sure thing icing was waved off by linesman Libor Suchanekan. Brad Hunt thought there should have been a whistle, but a whistle never came. In a good tic-tac-toe effort by Alex Edler, Troy Stecher, and Miller, the non-icing turned into a goal against for the Wild. Miller received a quick pass across the offensive zone from Stecher, opened up his hips, and let a wrister rip past a diving Dubnyk for his 24th of the year.
The Wild continued to search for a goal until late in the third when another newcomer found his way onto the scoresheet. This time, it was the new face Of Alex Galchenyuk of the Wild putting his stamp on the game and one upping Tyler Toffoli by scoring the game-tying goal with four minutes and 45 seconds remaining in regulation.
Off the rush, Mats Zuccarello cut to the middle and then fed a trailing Carson Soucy. Upon receiving the pass, the Wild defenseman quickly sent a wrister towards then, although missing the net and banking the puck off the backboards. The puck squirted out front and none other than Galchenyuk was there to sweep up “the trash”.
From there, the game was forced to go into overtime, but even that wasn’t enough. Both teams went through four rounds of a shootout, and even that wasn’t enough.
So in the fifth round of the shootout, with the game on his stick, the new guy Alex Galchenyuk went down on Canucks goaltender Markstrom. The Wild forward faked a shot with a leg kick then made a couple of quick moves before going to his backhand to slide the puck past Markstrom for the extra point for the Wild.
1. Will the Wild show any life?
Yes! Going into the night, it was almost a lock that the Wild’s opponent would come out fast and ready to play. The team had a new face in the lineup and are in a dogfight in the Pacific Division standings. Tyler Toffoli played his first game in a Canucks sweater after being traded from the Los Angeles Kings on Monday for forward Tim Schaller, the rights to forward Tyler Madden, a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. And as predicted, the Canucks came out flying.
On the flip side, Minnesota came out and played hard as well. Fiala scored a little over a minute in and in the second and third periods the Wild showed much life. Now, keep in mind it was the start of the “Dad’s trip”, where all the dads of the MInnesota Wild traveled with the team and are in attendance. Most guys play a little bit extra hard when pops is in the stands, which was evident on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
2. Can the Wild match the Canucks’ energy?
Yes! For a team with a bunch of “thirty-somethings” in their top six playing a young and fresh lineup as the Canucks, the Wild surprisingly matched, if not had more energy than their opponent. Even when the Canucks took the lead in the third period, Minnesota did not lay down and die, the team kept their energy level high and searched for the equalizer.
Interim head coach Dean Evason had this to say postgame about the team’s energy in the third period looking for the equalizer, “There was no sag, and I’ve been on the bench all year. There’s been sag. Tonight there wasn’t. Tonight there was just calm. They conducted themselves properly. Obviously we got a bounce, but we didn’t sink into a shell.”
3. Will the Wild get production from depth players?
Only a little. Not one depth forward found themselves on the scoresheet at the end of the night, but both Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt picked up assists in the 4-3 shootout win in Vancouver. Soucy assisted on the Galchenyuk game winner and Hunt assisted on Kunin’s second period tally.