There’s a nice benefit to this, though: It’s much easier to mask problems with better players. Mikko Koivu scored the only goal in the shootout, leading undefeated Minnesota to a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night. Off to their best start in the franchise’s six-year history, the Wild have won each of their four games by one goal – two by shootout, one in overtime and one with a late comeback.
It hasn’t been pretty, but – unlike in the recent past – they’ve been good enough to get it done.
“We’re looking for perfection, and I know it’s hard to get, but we want to be as close as possible,” coach Jacques Lemaire said, acknowledging that his team has been winning on pure talent.
Minnesota’s Manny Fernandez rebounded from a rough first period and stopped Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Richard Zednik with tough saves in the shootout.
Kim Johnsson scored two power-play goals for the Wild, who have never lost at home to the Capitals in four meetings.
“Hopefully we can keep it going,” Johnsson said.
It was a chippy game, featuring frequent stares, shoves and glares between enforcers Derek Boogaard and Donald Brashear and 19 penalties – 11 by Washington. But fans were treated to a thriller at the end, once the 5-minute overtime ended without a score.
The nifty maneuver by Koivu, who diverted from his usual backhand move and went left to sneak in the winner, ruined a solid performance by goalie Brent Johnson.
“The second shooter pretty much put me in the corner,” Johnson said. “I thought I had long enough legs to cover, and he obviously found a spot.”
With his toe, Johnson kicked away a rebound try by Marian Gaborik late in the third period. The Wild had a 4-on-3 advantage with 1:49 remaining in regulation, too, and Capitals defenceman Ben Clymer was helpless with a broken stick for a brief portion of that. But Johnson turned away several slap shots in that situation, and in overtime he gloved a riser fired by Nick Schultz with 32 seconds remaining.
“For us it can be looked at as a game of too many penalties, and that’s certainly in our control,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “For us, that’s the only area of concern.”
Semin and Dainius Zubrus each scored for Washington, which was playing for the first time in five days.
Ovechkin, last season’s rookie of the year, had a relatively quiet night, save for the second assist on the goal by Zubrus.
“It’s always scary when he gets the puck,” Lemaire said.
His fellow countryman with the same first name, however, continued his fast start. Semin, who returned to the Capitals this year after spending the past two seasons in the Russian Super League, moved into the NHL lead with his fifth goal – a high shot through man-advantage traffic that gave Washington a 2-1 lead late in the first period. Semin and Ovechkin have seven of their team’s nine goals this year.
Johnson, the backup to fixture Olaf Kolzig, had a strong pre-season for Washington and carried that over to his first start of the regular season.
Johnsson’s first score came on an easy tap-in after a sharp cut to the net, fed from a perfect opposite-side pass from Koivu that made the shot nearly impossible to stop.
After scoring only six goals last season with Philadelphia, Johnsson quickly boosted his total with his new team by grabbing a rebound of Gaborik’s shot in the second and slapping it into the net from the back of the left circle to tie the game at 2.
The Capitals consistently stayed back on defence, refusing to let Minnesota create any odd-man rushes. After spending millions to upgrade their roster this summer, the Wild have more weapons than ever and are suddenly finding their foes playing them with the same type of tight defence they’re known for.
“We have to be tougher to play against,” Lemaire said.
Notes: Minnesota D Brent Burns, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2003, has been a healthy scratch for all four games. … Wild LW Pascal Dupuis left the ice with a sprained left knee in the first period and did not return after limping to the training room. … Captain Chris Clark was credited for his fifth assist on a crisp cross-ice pass to Zubrus that put the Caps on the scoreboard first.