ST. PAUL, Minn. – The present and past combined for the Minnesota Wild’s first complete game of the season.
Cal Clutterbuck and Mikko Koivu scored first-period goals, the Wild played strong defence, and held on to beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Saturday night. Marek Zidlicky also scored for the Wild, who have won three of four.
“We played a good 60 minutes together,” centre Eric Belanger said. “We stayed composed and did a lot of good things. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Loui Eriksson scored twice on the power play for the Stars, who have allowed at least three goals in 11 of their 17 games – including five of six.
While adjusting to the system of new coach Todd Richards, players and coaches have collectively questioned why consistency has been lacking.
Part of that can be traced to poor starts. Entering the game, Minnesota had been outscored 13-7 in the opening period.
In Thursday’s loss to Vancouver, the Wild managed only three first-period shots and were booed off the ice. This time was much different.
Minnesota grabbed a 1-0 lead when Clutterbuck gathered a loose puck in the neutral zone and beat Alex Auld with a wrist shot from the right dot for the team’s first short-handed goal this season. Koivu made it 2-0 late in the period, banking in a rebound off Auld.
The Wild recorded the game’s first 11 shots. Dallas, which had 87 shots in its last two games, didn’t have one until more than 12 minutes had elapsed. The Wild finished with a 37-21 shot advantage.
Dallas was playing its second game in two nights, but refused to use that as an excuse.
“We had the benefit of the doubt (Friday night) with Vancouver playing back-to-back, so we knew it was going to be a tough go tonight,” centre Mike Modano said. “We got off to a shaky start there in the first, but we climbed ourselves back into the game and did some good things in the second to give us a chance.”
Eriksson’s power-play goals tied it in the second. His cross-crease pass was tipped in by Minnesota’s Nick Schultz early in the period, and he later deflected in a slap shot by Brad Richards. The Stars have power-play goals in six of seven games.
“You put the puck on net and see what happens,” Schultz said. “So many goals today are putting the puck on net and trying to get chances. Sometimes it goes in off their guy.”
Zidlicky scored his first goal of the season to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead late in the period when his centring pass deflected off Auld’s skate, and Nicklas Grossman tapped it into his own net while trying to clear the puck.
“That was his best game,” Todd Richards said. “He made plays offensively and he was moving his feet. Probably where he was best was just going back for pucks, retrieving pucks, and playing the rush and more and more of the defensive stuff.”
When Jacques Lemaire coached the Wild they often went into a defensive shell to protect a slim lead. Not anymore.
“It was good we didn’t sit back and we went after them,” Schultz said. “The coaches talked before about trying not to lose instead of going out there and trying to win the game.”
Dallas hurt itself with sloppiness, getting whistled for two penalties late in the second and two more in the third to limit its opportunities. The Stars were given a bench minor when coach Marc Crawford argued with an official.
“I didn’t think I got my money’s worth. Usually you have to swear to get a penalty,” he said.
Eriksson nearly had a hat trick late in the third, but his rebound attempt was just wide as goalie Nicklas Backstrom scrambled back across the crease.
NOTES: Brad Richards has a nine-game point streak. … Dallas LW James Neal, who leads the team with nine goals, missed his second straight game because of a groin pull. … Wild C James Sheppard was scratched. The team’s first-round pick in 2006 has no points and is a minus-6 in 14 games. … The Wild will play their next four games on the road, where they are 1-8 this season. … Modano is the last member of the Minnesota North Stars still playing in the NHL.