Mike Doyle's Five Takeaways vs. Vancouver
Monday, 03.19.2012 / 11:46 PM / Features
By Mike Doyle - Managing Editor
After three-straight losses, the Wild came out against the Northwest Division-leading, Vancouver Canucks and played a complete hockey game. Minnesota was buzzing throughout the game as the forecheck was in full force, causing turnovers and creating opportunities.
“Very pleased,” Head Coach Mike Yeo said following the win. “We talked at length yesterday at how to prepare. A lot of games are won or lost before the game starts.”
All facets of the Wild’s game was on, from special teams to defensive zone coverage, and it showed. Tonight, the Wild looked a lot like the team that was atop of the NHL before injuries ravaged its lineup.
“When we’re focused on the process of our game, it breeds confidence and more often than not we’ll get the result that we want,” Yeo said.
Josh Harding saw game action for the first time since suffering a lower body tweak on March 8. He was welcomed back to action with a dangerous first shot on goal, but that save set the tone for the rest of the night. Thirty seconds into the game, Chris Higgins received a drop pass from Ryan Kesler near the right faceoff circle. He had a point-blank look at the goal and wired one high to the far side. Harding whipped his glove high in the air and was locked in the rest of the night.
“Not only does he save it,” said Yeo about the play. “It sends a message to the rest of the group that he is ready to go.”
As good as that first save was, it might not have been the most impressive thing Harding did tonight. Some call it being in the zone, but tonight Harding was in the Matrix. In the third period, after a Vancouver face-off win, Dan Hamuis got a point shot through traffic that Harding fought off to save. He wasn’t sure if the puck was under him and leaned back like Neo, but instead of bending over backwards to dodge bullets he did it to keep the puck out of the net. For Harding, tonight, there was no spoon.
After a sluggish start with the Wild, Erik Christensen has been on fire. His first period power play tally was his fourth goal in his last four games. His shootout exploits have been well documented, and that skill has come to fruition during game play of late. As a member of the Rangers, Christensen didn’t play much this season. When you’re out of the lineup, no matter how much work you may get in practice, it affects your timing. Maybe worse, it drains your confidence.
Beyond scoring goals, Christensen is playing a much more assertive game. In the second period, he created time and space for himself along the half-wall. He shook off his defender with stick handling that could’ve been done in a phone booth. After a few quick circles, he fired a shot on net. He didn’t score on the shot, but with every move like that one his confidence will grow and those plays will lead to goals.
A nifty, no-look pass by Kyle Brodziak set up Christensen’s goal. With that assist, Brodziak set a career-high in points. He plays the game the right way, taking care of the defensive zone responsibilities before jumping into the offense. He wears a lot of hats and his responsibilities for the little things has not suffered because. Yeo has asked him to carry more of an offensive load, but his defensive zone play is solid night after night.
“I’ve been very pleased with Brodzy since the beginning of the year,” Yeo told the media before the game. “He takes pride in what he is as a player and he’s because of that he’s been very consistent and the results, for him, have spoken to that.”
He capped the game with an empty net goal, his 19th on the season. On a shift that has come to signify the way Brodziak plays, he won the faceoff, blocked a shot and was rewarded with the nail in the coffin goal.
Sure, Clayton Stoner is a strong dude, but even his push to the face of Alexander Burrows wouldn’t have knocked over Olive Oyl, let alone should it have dropped an NHL player. However, Burrows went down like Mike Tyson hit him with a running start, and I’m talking about mid-80s Tyson: Iron Mike not Flabby Mike. Stoner was whistled for a roughing call, but Marc-Andre Gragnani took an offsetting rough as well, resulting in a four-on-four.
I’m all for gamesmanship and trying to give your team the advantage, but not when a little shove makes you look like you’ve been hit in the face with a two-by-four.