The surging Wild just dropped a thriller on the season-high crowd at the X Thursday night. It featured 3 goals in 1:20, a franchise record of goals in that span. The return of Cal Clutterbuck was nasty as always, and the physical nature of this game coupled with the seesaw high scoring made this a game to remember.
When Coach B said to give him until Christmas to delivery this team, I took it at face value: confidence from a coach with a great regular season history not really understanding the current set of players.
While he has expressed consternation over the first 1/3 of the season, Coach B has certainly delivered, and on the strength of some surprising and not so surprising backs. Our veteran players like Koivu, Granlund, and others are playing better than I have seen in years. Suter, dropping a few minutes on ice per game is looking rock solid and conducting one of the best seasons we've seen. Despite injuries on D, the defense was resilient, and the league-leading Dubnyk has snuffed out opposition at an alarming rate. Players like Stewart are making a surprising amount of contributions, and Staal has been rejuvenated and was a brilliant pickup by Fletcher.
While I liked Yeo, there was something missing in his formula. What we've seen under Coach B is this innate ability to deliver high performance from each player, veteran and youth alike. No favoritism or pandering is apparent. You see the ever-struggling Pominville being demoted to 4th line several times. Young players like Graovac has even found a home in the big show. With all lines regularly contributing, it is a testament to a new mindset in that locker room.
The most obvious place we see this new system is the absolute aggressiveness we see across all zones of the ice. In years past, I'd watch a few players (left unnamed) watch the puck go by, or not fully effort on the boards or in deep. The Islanders game was a great example of just how hard each puck was played, and the effort each player is expending on each shift. Clutterbuck had his pocket picked 3 times on plays we might not have pressed on in years past.
Much of this aggressiveness is enabled by the stalwart play of Dubnyk, and his defense. With unbridled confidence they can push, and many opportunistic goals have appeared. The 3 goals in 1:20 last night was a good microcosm of that opportunism paying off.
With Columbus coming up, the NHL has their marquee New Years Eve matchup. This is a test of two hot teams, and regardless of outcome, it will be truly interesting to see how each team responds in 2017 after a scorching finish to 2016.