Efficient Wild back on track, but need to continue rolling on the road
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Here's a quick message to any ticket-buying Minnesota Wild fan who has ever yelled "SHOOT!" when their team touches the puck in the offensive zone:
In improving to 2-0-0 in 2014 on Saturday, the Wild did something that there is no statistic record of ever being accomplished before. The Wild had just one shot on goal in the opening 20 minutes of the game, and a season-low 11 shots for the game -- and five of them went in the Washington Capitals' net in a 5-3 Wild win.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, dating back to 1973 when they first started keeping record of such things, no NHL team had ever before scored five goals on a dozen or fewer shots.
"Well, our shooting percentage went up," joked Wild coach Mike Yeo. "When you get one shot in the first period, your totals aren't going to be real high. We have to be better. Like I said, how we execute, there's no two ways about it. But the second period is much more what we should be doing and I think we saw the results of that if we're doing it."
Yeo and the overflow sellout crowd who braved the dire predictions of an arctic vortex descending upon the State of Hockey got to see another kind of history as well. Via a pair of power play goals in the second period, and by capping off a 2-on-1 rush in the third, defenseman Ryan Suter notched his first career hat trick.
"I can't get this smile off my face," Suter said afterward. He went without a goal in the first 40 games of the season, and has now scored five in the Wild's last four outings. "I've never gotten a hat trick. I can't even score two goals in summer hockey."
All of the superlatives came after an opening period that can only be described as disastrous, unless you're on the Capitals' roster. The Caps out-shot the Wild 11-1, and led 2-0 as Minnesota's team got an earful from fans when the horn sounded. And no, they weren't yelling "shoot!"
"The first period, I really don't think we could've scripted that any better," said Capitals center Brooks Laich. "Two-nothing lead, they have one shot, they're not in our zone, they're getting booed off the ice after 20 minutes by their own fans on a Saturday night. We're in total control of that game. We get one in the second and after that the penalties shot us in the foot. That was the story of the game."
After Nino Niederreiter finally got the Wild on the board, via their second shot of the game, Suter scored on a 5-on-3 and then on a regular 5-on-4 power play. Washington re-tied the game at 3-3 before Jason Zucker, and then Suter again, scored for the final margin. The Capitals are now 0-6-1 all-time in St. Paul, and remain the NHL's only team that's never won a game at Xcel Energy Center.
So many hats rained down on the ice after Suter's third goal - more than 95 according to one team employee, that they stopped the game and filled a garbage can with all of the headwear.
Pity Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who finished with six saves. Yes, six.
And credit the Wild for flipping the calendar to 2014 and putting the mess of 2013 when they lost their last six in a row behind them.
"We've played the right way for the most part for three games and we have to keep that going," said Yeo. "What I said before, when you have that consistency in your game, that's when you get consistent results, and so that's our challenge now. We have to come into our next game and we have to be determined to be better than we were tonight."
From here a new challenges arises, as the Wild escape the brutal cold that's coming for a West Coast road trip. Games at Los Angeles and Phoenix loom large for the Wild, still a sub-par 6-12-3 away from St. Paul. And with Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon and Josh Harding already sidelined, the health of captain Mikko Koivu is suddenly in question as well, after he took a Caps shot off the foot and left the game early.
"I don't have an update but obviously that would be enormous," Yeo said, after Koivu had two assists on Saturday. "I don't even need to go into what he means for our team."