Though the Minnesota Wild haven’t been scoring much this season, they’ve limited opponents’ scoring opportunities better than any team in the NHL.
They overwhelmed the Dallas Stars on both ends of the rink on Saturday night.
Rookies Justin Fontaine and Mathew Dumba both scored their first NHL goals and Josh Harding made 18 saves for his second straight win as the Wild beat the Stars 5-1.
The Wild came in giving up a league-low 22.0 shots per game, and they kept the pressure off Harding, who was filling in for injured starter Niklas Backstrom. Two nights after stopping 14 of 15 shots in a 2-1 win over Winnipeg, Harding faced only 19 shots as the Wild controlled play from the opening faceoff.
”They’re doing a nice job on the other end of the rink,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. ”They’ve got a lot of good puck possession and they’re winning the battle of the possession clock in their own end.”
Minnesota also blocked 10 shots and had 15 takeaways — compared to just three for the Stars — as they repeatedly frustrated Dallas’ attempts to sustain any offensive momentum.
”We’ve talked about how we want to be a puck-possession team and how defending is a lot easier when you have the puck,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. ”I like the way that we defend. I like the structure that we have. But, again, we’d much rather force them to defend than put ourselves in that position.”
Dallas also was playing with its backup goalie as starter Kari Lehtonen was injured in a 4-1 win at Winnipeg on Friday. His replacement, Dan Ellis, struggled with Minnesota’s offensive barrage, allowing five goals on 36 shots to a team that had scored just nine goals in four previous games.
The Wild jumped ahead with the fastest goal to start a game in team history, as Fontaine put Minnesota on the board just 12 seconds in. Matt Cooke scooped up a loose puck off a Stars turnover in the high slot and fed it to Fontaine, who fell to his knees but feathered a back-hander past Ellis.
”That’s a rolling back-hander. I was just trying to throw it on the net.” Fontaine said. ”Those are tricky they say for the goaltenders. I’m just glad it went in.”
Cooke doubled the lead midway through the first, beating Ellis on a wrap-around after stealing the puck from defenseman Alex Goligoski behind the net off a faceoff.
”We kind of gave them a two-goal lead there, just sloppy plays,” Goligoski said. We never really got going after that. We kind of got outplayed all over the rink. … We got off on the wrong foot tonight and it just kind of spiraled from there.”
Minnesota missed a couple of chances to expand its lead, as Kyle Brodziak and Cooke each came away empty on short-handed breakaways during a nearly four-minute Dallas power play. But the Wild broke through with two goals in two minutes midway through the second period to take a 4-0 lead.
Dumba, the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, scored his first career goal on a Minnesota power play, beating Ellis with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle off a pass from Dany Heatley. Nino Niederreiter then scored off a wide-angle shot that handcuffed Ellis at the left post.
Dallas countered with a power-play goal by Jordie Benn to cut the deficit to 4-1 at 12:40 of the second period, but Zach Parise scored a power-play goal for the Wild late in the third period to restore the four-goal cushion and keep the Stars at arm’s length.
”What I liked is how we executed in the third period,” Yeo said. ”We weren’t just chipping pucks out, chipping pucks in, we were still making tape-to-tape plays. We were still executing. When we were defending, we weren’t just trying to be in good position. We were getting after them. We were being aggressive from good position.”
NOTES: Backstrom and Lehtonen are both considered day-to-day with their injuries. … Minnesota has outshot its opponents in all five games this season, while the Stars have been outshot in all four of their games. Minnesota has a 67-25 shot advantage in the second period. … Dallas F Shawn Horcoff played in his 800th NHL game. … Harding is 24-9-2 in his career at Xcel Energy Center and has won six of his last seven home starts. … Alex Chiasson, who assisted on Benn’s goal, has a point in every game this season.