Wild dominate faceoff circle in record fashion in much-needed win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Ice hockey was a new concept in the Soviet Union in the 1950s when, from out of nowhere, the Red Machine went from not fielding a team to winning Olympic gold medals overnight. They didn't stop until the country broke apart in the 1990s.
The secret was, in retrospect, pretty simple. Anatoli Tarasov, forever known as the father of Russian hockey, studied this game that had been so dominated by the Canadians and came up with a novel and basic idea: your opponents cannot score if they do not have the puck. For a generation, the Soviets dominated the world stage through the simple act of puck possession.
Nobody would accuse Wild coach Mike Yeo of channeling Anatoli Tarasov, but in desperate times, with your team and your fans badly yearning for any kind of win, you do whatever it takes.
On Thursday, as the Wild outlasted the Winnipeg Jets for a not-often-pretty 2-1 win, their first of the season, it was puck possession that made the difference.
The Wild set a franchise record on Thursday, winning 45 of the 61 faceoffs in the game
"It's the little things that add up to make a difference, and that's what we saw tonight," said an obviously relieved Wild coach Mike Yeo, as his team improved to 1-1-2 after starting the season with shootout, overtime and regulation losses.
For Winnipeg, which managed just 15 shots on goal and shot in goal, which came on a 5-on-3 power play, the lack of time with the puck became painfully obvious.
"We never start with the puck," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We chased pretty much the whole night and never created very much through the neutral zone. I just think that we didn't win enough battles. Puck battles in the D zone and in the hard areas. We didn't generate very much and you're not going to win a lot of games with 15 shots."
Still, on yet another night where the Wild outshot their opponents by a wide margin, and dominated long stretches of the game, they needed a last-second bounce to prevent the Jets from tying the game and forcing another overtime, shootout, whatever.
"It's just good to get both points," Yeo said. "We don't want to seem to make it easy on ourselves."
The domination in shots has been a departure on a Wild team used to lagging near the bottom of the NHL in making opposing goalies work. The heroes in win number one were also a bit of a departure, as Matt Cooke - the much-maligned ex-goon who was signed over the summer - got the game-winner, and Josh Harding - pressed into duty when Niklas Backstrom suffered a strained knee in the loss to Nashville on Tuesday - got the win in goal.
"Our D played unbelievable," Harding said, quick to deflect credit. "Our forwards did a great job down low. And I thought that we carried the play most of that game."
And as a plucky band of communists on skates proved more than 60 years ago, the simple act of possessing the puck and carrying the play goes a long way.