As the Minnesota Wild eclipsed the one-quarter mark of the season, the identity of their leading goal-scorer is a one of the league’s biggest surprises.
Heading into a Tuesday clash against the visiting Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota’s offensive attack is being led by 12-goal scorer Ryan Hartman. His pace would obliterate his career-high for goals in a season — the 19 he tallied during his rookie campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016-17.
“Did we see potential? Sure. That’s why he’s playing the minutes that he’s playing. That’s why he’s playing where he’s playing,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “Not that we gave him anything. He earned everything … and he’s getting rewarded because of it.”
Hartman, who has scored in three consecutive games and tallied five times in his past six outings, will look to add to his totals when the Central Division-leading Wild try to extend their three-game winning streak on Tuesday.
While the Wild, who beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Sunday and boast the second-best record (14-6-1) through 21 games in franchise history, are known as a defense-first team, their offensive play is turning heads. Minnesota has scored four or more goals in five of its past six games.
“There’s so much movement and creativity, and obviously I think Kirill (Kaprizov) and Zuccy (Mats Zuccarello) are really at the forefront of that,” Wild forward Rem Pitlick said. “We’re a very strong, straight-line team with a lot of speed, but there’s so much creativity. …
“It’s just really cool to be a part of it because it’s both sides of the coin. It’s kind of like a combination of North American and European (styles) here.”
The Coyotes sit last in the Central Division, but are coming off a 1-0 road victory over the struggling Winnipeg Jets on Monday as rookie goaltender Karel Vejmelka stopped 46 shots for his first NHL shutout. The Coyotes have won three of five games as part of a 4-2-1 run after winning only once in their first 15 games.
Vejmelka was especially strong while the Coyotes killed six penalties, five of them in the third period, although that definitely was a team-wide performance that Arizona will try to build off going forward.
“It’s fun to win the game that way because our (penalty-killing unit) was challenged early in the season and made good strides,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said. “We needed them. I think there was eight minutes we were short-handed in the third period, and they made the difference. They made a lot of blocked shots and closed on the blue line very well. We got some momentum from them, and I’m really proud of them.”
Arizona likely will turn to No. 1 netminder Scott Wedgewood against the Wild.
It has been a tough season for the Coyotes, but they received a big boost with Christian Fischer returning to the lineup against Winnipeg after missing seven games due to an upper-body injury. The talented forward gave the team a boost of speed and energy, notably on the forecheck and on the penalty kill.
“Any time you miss an extended amount of games, your first shift or two, things come quick,” Fischer said. “You can’t practice at that speed. As the game went on, I felt good.”
He felt even better after a win.
“I’d rather not kill that many penalties, but I’m really proud of our group,” Fischer said. “I know I’m just coming back, but, gosh, that felt good. That was a grinding and mucky win.”
–Field Level Media