ST. PAUL, Minn. – The command from the coach was clear. The Minnesota Wild needed to start shooting the puck more.
The players sure heard the message, receiving plenty of positive reinforcement.
Matt Cullen had two goals and an assist for Minnesota, and the Wild let their sputtering offence loose by dominating the Vancouver Canucks from start to finish with 45 shots on net in a 5-1 victory Thursday.
“It was a matter of time,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We don’t expect that every game, but we’ve been generating some chances. We haven’t capitalized on them at the rate that we’d like to, but with that I think offensively we took another step tonight. Hopefully this is a game we can build off of.”
Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored and had two assists and Guillaume Latendresse and Marco Scandella also got goals for the Wild, who won their third straight, all with backup goalie Josh Harding.
After missing last season recovering from two torn ligaments in his knee, Harding is 3-0-1—with 98 saves over his last three games on 100 shots. He made 24 saves against the Canucks.
“We drove the net. We shot everything. It was overall a great game by everyone,” Harding said.
Defenceman Dan Hamhuis gave Vancouver the game’s first goal just 2:20 in, but Harding wasn’t fazed, and the Wild’s young blue-liners played another relentless game in front of him. Their effort not only shut down the Sedin twins and struggling star Ryan Kesler, but it helped fuel a frenetic attack by the forwards on their way to a franchise record for most shots on goal in a home game.
“Do the right things, and it’s going to work,” said Cullen, who tied a career high with nine shots on goal and also won 13 of 17 faceoffs.
Cory Schneider, making his fourth start of the season, did his best to keep the Canucks competitive, twice denying Cullen with difficult saves in the first period. But he ran out of steam and was helpless by the middle of the game.
“We gave them some time and space. I know they haven’t scored a whole lot this year, but they have quite a few skill players and we saw tonight they made some pretty nice plays,” Schneider said. “We just can’t get caught off guard like that.”
Yeo had an alternate theory.
“I’m sure Vancouver’s in there saying that they didn’t play well, but I feel we did a lot of things to make them feel that, to make them say that, and part of that is shooting the puck,” Yeo said.
With Vancouver’s defence continually breaking down without stalwart Sami Salo, who was scratched with a sore groin muscle, the Wild scored three times in the second period on 22 shots—more than they managed the entire game in three previous contests this season.
“We lost 5-1 and our best player by far was our goaltender. That about can sum it up right there,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said.
The only team in the NHL averaging fewer than two goals per game entering the night, the Wild have been urged by Yeo and his staff to shoot more—that putting pucks on the net is not a selfish act.
Latendresse used some slick stick work to score early in the middle frame, going left, right, left, then right again to shoot and score from the edge of the circle when the puck bounced off Schneider’s mask and in the net. Latendresse acknowledged he’d been passing too much this season. He heard Dany Heatley calling for the puck during that sequence but ignored him.
“I need to have confidence in my skills and my ability, and that’s what I did there,” Latendresse said.
Then, 21 seconds later, Bouchard banged in his first goal of the season to give the Wild the lead.
Vigneault called timeout, and the pace slowed a little, but Scandella let a slap shot rip from behind the circle that slipped through with 2:55 left in the period.
Kesler, who has only one goal since returning from hip surgery six games into the season, sent a shot from inside the circle that somehow rolled along the goal line without going in before Harding whirled around and whisked it out of trouble. Kesler had 41 goals last season.
Cullen put the punctuation on the final frame, scoring when he faked a shot on Andrew Alberts and then sent a tight-angle shot over Schneider’s shoulder. He got his team-leading sixth goal of the season later in the period, helping the Wild improve to 6-3-3. The Canucks fell to 6-6-1.
“I think everyone’s surprised. This has got to be one of the worst performances I’ve been a part of in this jersey,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said, adding: “It was the defence, the goalies, the forwards, everybody, coaches, everyone was involved in this one. We all take the blame for it.”
NOTES: Wild D Clayton Stoner missed his third straight game due to a hand injury. … The Wild beat the Canucks for the first time in five meetings. … Schneider started for Roberto Luongo, who’s been pulled early from four of his previous five starts at Xcel Energy Center. He’s 3-9-2 here in his career, and in his last three games in Minnesota he posted a 7.00 goals-against average. … The Wild’s previous record for shots at home was 43, on Jan. 10, 2003, against Phoenix. Their all-time record is 47. … The last time the Wild scored three or more goals was Oct. 11, the third game of the season. … The Canucks went 0-for-5 on the power play, and the Wild have killed 12 straight penalties.