There was a fair amount of trepidation regarding this game by some Wild fans - myself included. Long layoffs (four days, in this case) can often render a team flat. And the Coyotes have been playing good hockey of late as well.
We needn't have worried.
The Wild turned in their most dominant, 60-minute, three-zone effort of the season last night, giving the young Coyotes a demonstration of what a team looks like when it takes its game to the next level.
Nik Backstrom was again superlative, continuing his personal mastery of Phoenix, though he got more help from the five guys in front of him than he had in most of the preceding 2-4-0 stretch.
And let me take a moment to single out Martin Skoula. I am officially taking him OFF my personal hot seat. He has been the steady-with-a-hint-of-offense, low-second or solid-third pairing defenseman many of us had thought he could be, but had yet to see before this season. Unspectacular? Fine, I have no problem with that because "spectacular" cuts both ways - or at least it has with him in the past. When he took a hit to make a play - the right one, to boot - behind the Wild net last night, it almost brought me to tears. If he can anchor the bottom half of our defense corps then the Wild will be a much better team for it.
And, what can you say about Mikko? There can be no doubt that this is his, not Gaborik's, team. There was a play last night where the puck was just inside the Phoenix blueline, with at least one Wild player deeper in the zone (onside) and a Phoenix defenseman back checking to try to clear the zone. Mikko stepped up to hit the guy first, then won the puck and THEN set up a scoring chance. We commented at the time that he looked like Peter Forsberg in his prime.
Marek Zidlicky had his first two goals in a Wild sweater - on the night he was joined at the X by his wife and son for the first time.
Burns and Nolan both returned, understandably rusty, but contributed. Pouliot drew raves from Lemaire. Belanger was outstanding in all situations - his 1-1-2 was richly deserved. Even MAB - my NEW Skoula - earned 3 helpers and didn't take a dump on the ice in front of Backstrom.
Total team effort - which will need to be duplicated and re-duplicated over the rest of the next couple weeks of (primarily) home games.
Chicken Little says: They showed they can put together a 60-minute effort. Now they need to do it consistently.
Pollyanna says: That....was fun!
Bottom Line: It's one thing to have games-in-hand, but it's quite another to convert them into wins.
Stud: So many to choose from in this one. I have to go with Zidlicky. Just for getting the monkey off his back, and for sparking our power play that had been struggling.
Dud: I'm getting very tired of watching PMB kill scoring chances by patently refusing to shoot the puck. If, for no other reason than, it makes him so easy to defend. How about Butch and Gaby to Ottawa for Spezza and a 1st?