Glen Andresen's Five Takeaways vs. St. Louis
If it’s possible to have playoff intensity in an NHL game before Thanksgiving, we got it tonight. Two of the hottest teams in the NHL squared off and went full throttle for 65 minutes and more. To put it simply, the Wild’s 3-2 shootout win over St. Louis was the most entertaining start-to-finish game out of this season’s first 20.
In a game like this, the best players are the best players and the goaltenders are at the top of their games. Both were true tonight. Mikko Koivu and T.J. Oshie were forces for their teams. Koivu scored both goals for the Wild, and Oshie had a goal and an assist. They also both scored in the shootout.
“He’s a pretty good player,” deadpanned Head Coach Mike Yeo. “I thought he was outstanding. I thought he was really, really good last game too. As things went along, he was demanding the puck and making plays and driving his feet. Real tough to defend and he did a heck of a job carrying it into today’s game.”
As for the goalies, Josh Harding and Jaroslav Halak traded huge save after huge save, with each stop getting progressively more impressive as the end drew closer.
Both teams deserved a point, but the Wild got two, and now appear to be ready to take the top spot in the Western Conference with Chicago losing to Edmonton.
On one play, Koivu showed just about everything that makes him so valuable to this team. Smarts, defensive instincts, quick hands and a wicked shot.
Trailing 1-0 in the second and killing a penalty, Koivu stalked Patrick Berglund on his way to retrieve a puck behind the St. Louis net. Most players in Koivu’s position would simply glide in, make Berglund make a pass and then get ready to race back to the defensive zone.
Koivu looked like he was doing that, but then he darted behind the net to intercept the pass attempt. He then darted to the front of the net and roofed one over the shoulder of Jaroslav Halak.
Koivu brings so much to this team rather than just offense. It just so happens that offense is what stands out the most, and he certainly brought that big time tonight.
Yet, the intensity level was just as high, if not ratcheted up. Now that the Blues have rattled off nine points in their last five games, they’re looking to be contenders. Both teams are trying to show they’re for real, and that probably explains the excessive amount of message-sending hits that were delivered.
Cal Clutterbuck was a man possessed, particularly in going after Roman Polak, who drove him into the boards from behind early in the game. On the other side, T.J. Oshie was a man of destruction, absolutely bullying his way to loose pucks. Justin Falk, who is one of the biggest bodies in the Wild lineup, tried to put him into the bench area. Oshie saw it coming and Falk was the one who was sent flying. Not an easy task.
Remember when shootouts were supposed to be a weakness for the Wild? Supposedly it was this season even. Not so anymore. Niklas Backstrom is 2-1 this year, and Harding moved to 1-0 after stopping two of three shots tonight. Even more impressive are the shooters the Wild can trot out there.
Matt Cullen improved to 4-for4 this year after putting away the shootout winner. Koivu improved to 23-of-54 in his career with his sick backhand move. Pierre-Marc Bouchard was denied for the third time this year, but with his moves, I think Yeo will continue to take his chances with Butch on a breakaway.
In his postgame press conference, Yeo said he’d be lying if he didn’t look at the standings. We’d be lying if we said that too. Yes, there is three-quarters of the season to play, but the Wild missed the playoffs in the past three seasons. The sports landscape in Minnesota has been a little down recently if you haven’t noticed (Minnesota Lynx aside).
When we see our team in first place in the Western Conference, we’re going to get excited. So while there are still about four months remaining in the season, I think it’s better to be on top at this point than anywhere else.