Coming off of a strong performance in San Jose on Tuesday, the Ducks returned to Honda Center hoping to keep up their momentum. Minnesota had high expectations of their own, having just defeated the soaring Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout. In their first of back-to-back games, the Ducks turned to rookie Viktor Fasth to take on the Wild and their new high-profile additions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. After falling behind 0-1 in the first period, the Ducks rallied back with three unanswered goals, ending the night with an impressive 3-1 victory over the Wild.
Here were the line combinations to start the game:
Andrew Cogliano | Saku Koivu | Daniel Winnik
Matt Beleskey | Ryan Getzlaf | Corey Perry
Kyle Palmieri | Bobby Ryan | Teemu Selanne
Emerson Etem | Nick Bonino | Emerson Etem
Sheldon Souray | Francois Beauchemin
Bryan Allen | Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa | Sami Vatanen
Rookie Rickard Rakell was a healthy scratch. Team management faces a tough decision of whether to keep the 19-year-old forward with the Ducks or send him back to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. In this shortened season, junior-aged players are only allowed 5 games in the NHL before a decision needs to be made (players get 9 games in a regular NHL season). Once a player plays his sixth game, their first year of their NHL entry-level contract kicks in. Rakell has played in 4 NHL games so far this season.
This game marked the NHL debut of highly-touted prospect Sami Vatanen. Vatanen, taken in the 4th round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, has been putting up strong numbers in the Finnish SM-liiga. This season he came to North America and accumulated 4+19=23 points in 34 games with the Norfolk Admirals.
This game also marked the first home game for SoCal native Emerson Etem, who was born in Long Beach, CA.
The Ducks’ special teams looked very impressive. The power play had a new look with both Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen on the blue line, with Getzlaf, Perry, and Beleskey up front. On the Ducks’ first power play of the game, the power play unit held sustained pressure in the Wild zone for nearly a minute and a half, generating numerous scoring opportunities. The power play converted on their second chance of the night, with Bobby Ryan scoring a goal from Selanne and Getzlaf. The penalty kill unit was 1 for 1 on the night, doing a good job protecting the net, battling along the boards, and clearing the puck down the ice. Koivu and Winnik formed the first PK unit with Souray and Beauchemin. Getzlaf, Perry, Allen, and Sbisa filled out the second unit.
Coach Bruce Boudreau showed a lot of faith in his young players, playing the new defensive pairing of Sami Vatanen and Luca Sbisa with Devante Smith-Pelly, Nick Bonino, and Emerson Etem. The average age of those players is 21 years old. The three forwards all ended the night with an even rating and the two defensemen both had a +1 rating.
Daniel Winnik continued to impress by doing the little things. He’s always working hard and moving his feet. In the defensive zone he battles hard along the boards to clear the puck, and entering the opponent’s zone he chips it in and gets behind the defense. Ducks fans are taking a liking to the new forward, and with good reason.
Sami Vatanen appeared to have some nerves in the early going, having some difficulty handling a few pucks that escaped the zone on the power play. However, as the game went on, those mistakes seemed to disappear. Vatanen showed why he should be on the power play unit showing impressive passing around the zone alongside Fowler on the blue line. In the defensive zone Vatanen wasn’t too noticeable, which is a good thing for a young defenseman: there were no glaring mistakes and he seemed to fit in well with the team. He isn’t afraid to get physical, throwing his body around along the boards. This was a nice surprise coming from a smaller defenseman who is listed at 5’10″, 180 lbs.
The young line of Devante Smith-Pelly, Nick Bonino, and Emerson Etem looks very solid, especially considering this was their first game playing together. If Etem had any nerves playing his first NHL game in front of his hometown crowd he didn’t let it show. Smith-Pelly was his usual hard-nosed self, Bonino played a solid two-way game, and Etem provided some jump to the line. The trio played very responsible hockey and generated numerous chances while only playing an average of just over 8 minutes between the three of them.
Viktor Fasth got his second win in as many starts and looked solid in his second NHL game. His first and only goal against was one that he might be wishing he could have back, as he got caught shuffling to his right and allowed a shot to go through him. He wasn’t tested much throughout the remainder of the first period and in the second, as the Wild only managed 6 and 8 shots, respectively. However, Fasth was put to the task of holding onto a tight lead and he did so with poise. Perhaps his best save of the night was in the final few minutes of the game when he made a strong push to his right to cover an open net and grabbed the potential game-tying goal. Fasth showed throughout the night that he is strong down low and fast moving side-to-side.