Two wins in a row usually do not cause NHL coaches to get too excited.
That said, the way the Minnesota Wild have played in their last two games — a pair of victories over the Anaheim Ducks — has coach Dean Evason in a positive mood heading into Monday’s road clash with the San Jose Sharks.
The Wild have struggled to find traction all season, but Evason says the manner in which his players have performed in their last handful of outings has the team headed in the right direction.
“It’s one thing for us to bark back there, ‘Don’t turn the puck over. Manage the puck,’ and continually yell,” Evason explained. “You don’t know if your group is getting it or if you’re just yelling it and they don’t really want to do it, but when they are actually talking about it and saying it, not only on the bench but in the dressing room, then that’s exciting.”
Evason and the Wild have a few reasons to be excited as they face the Sharks, with whom they split a pair of games last month. Not only has Minnesota cobbled together successive wins, scoring eight goals marks their best two-game output since the opening games of the season.
Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Ducks underscored the Wild’s emphasis on establishing scoring depth, after scoring only six times in the previous four games.
Kevin Fiala netted a pair of goals and an assist, giving him six goals in seven games. Mats Zuccarello collected a goal and an assist in just his third game after offseason surgery and rookie Kirill Kaprizov’s two-point outing has him leading all NHL rookies with 11 points.
“Sometimes, some games, the puck sits on your stick and you feel good. Some games, you struggle,” Zuccarello said. “I think the first three games, I’ve had the puck a little bit and felt good. Playing with good players, that helps and like today, Rasky (Victor Rask) and Kirill are holding onto the puck, that makes it easier. Obviously, I worked out a really long time, and I feel like I’m in really good shape.”
The Sharks are in a similar spot as the Wild. They are coming off Saturday’s 5-4 win over the St. Louis Blues and enter Monday’s game on a 2-0-1 run. That said, the win in St. Louis came after they saw a 4-1 lead disappear when the Blues scored four second-period goals, and the Sharks needed a late goal from Logan Couture to win.
It marked the first victory in five starts this season for goalie Devan Dubnyk, who will be facing his former team on Monday.
“We’re a team that has to win these kinds of games,” coach Bob Boughner said. “When you score five goals on the road, you don’t expect this much trouble. Everybody was pushing hard. We had to find a way to win and we did. I’m pretty proud of the guys. It’s easy to get rattled when you give up a three-goal lead. We just kept coming. We played a really good period.”
Now, the quest is to parlay that gut-check victory over a solid Blues team into a winning streak.
“We have some very, very big games coming up against some very good teams, teams that are probably going to finish at the top of our division, so it’s very important for us,” Couture said. “I liked both of our games in St. Louis.
“When I look back at that first game here (Thursday, a 3-2 overtime defeat) when we didn’t get two points, that still stings, but happy with the way that we battled,” Couture added. “We didn’t have a great second (period on Saturday), obviously, to give up four goals, but we fought in the third and found a way.”
–Field Level Media