Wild rookies come through in win over Dallas
SAINT PAUL — Relying on rookies in the NHL is a high-risk, high-reward idea. On Saturday night, the Minnesota Wild took the risk, and reaped the rewards.
Rookies Matt Dumba and Justin Fontaine scored their first NHL goals as the Wild cruised to a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars.
Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise also scored for the Wild, who improved to 2-1-2.
“That’s kind of what we said, we expected to happen eventually here, that we would get what we deserved,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo, liking the progress he’s seeing, especially from his young players in key roles. “We continue to go out and do the right things.”
Dallas, playing without mainstay goalie Kari Lehtonen, fell behind 4-0 as backup netminder Dan Ellis looked unsteady at times. Jordie Benn scored the only goal for the Stars, who are now 2-2-0.
The Wild emerged from the opening 20 minutes up 2-0.
Fontaine, well-known to hockey fans in the region after helping Minnesota Duluth win a NCAA title in St. Paul in 2011, set a Wild franchise record for the fastest goal at the start of a game, slipping a harmless-looking backhand shot between Ellis’ knees just 12 seconds in.
“I think we had a lot of issues tonight,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said, admitting that his goalie was rattled by the early goal. “I think when a goal like that goes in, in Dan’s case it shakes the confidence a little bit.”
Midway through the opening period, Cooke’s offensive effectiveness continued. He beat Ellis from the side of the net, giving the Minnesota newcomer three goals in his first five games for the Wild.
“What’s most important to me is the team wins, and tonight was a step in the right direction for us,” Cooke said. “Some young guys getting on the board and chipping in, with older guys leading the way, playing the right way, spending time in the offensive zone. That was our first full 60-minute game.”
Dumba got a power play goal in the second to make it 3-0, off a cross-ice pass from Dany Heatley. The Wild’s first-round draft pick in 2012, Dumba played in three of Minnesota’s five games, with significant ice time.
After Niederreiter got his first goal as a member of the Wild, Benn scored on a power play to quash Minnesota goalie Josh Harding’s bid for a shutout. Harding finished with 18 saves in his second start of the season. Parise scored on a power play late in the third period.
It was the first start of the season for Ellis, who came on in relief of Lehtonen in the Stars’ 4-1 win in Winnipeg on Friday. Lehtonen is officially listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, forcing the Stars to recall Jack Campbell from their AHL affiliate. Ellis made 31 saves in the loss.
“We kind of gave them a two-goal lead with sloppy plays. We never really got going after that. It was a tough night,” Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “The start of any game is important, but especially in a back-to-back. We got off on the wrong foot tonight and it kind of spiraled from there.”
Notes: Wild G Niklas Backstrom was a full participant in the team’s most recent practice, but he has not made his way back between the pipes for a game yet. Backstrom suffered a strained knee in Minnesota’s 3-2 loss in Nashville last week. ... Stars G Dan Ellis had not started a game for Dallas in nearly a decade. He made his NHL debut with the Stars on Feb. 18, 2004, and then played for the Predators, Lightning, Ducks and Hurricanes before inking a two-year deal with Dallas during the summer. ... After back-to-back road games, the Stars get a few nights off before facing the Avalanche in Denver on Tuesday. The Wild head out on their first extended road trip of the season with a game in Buffalo on Monday. They will visit Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida as well. ... The Stars, who played their first 26 seasons in Minnesota, might have felt somewhat at home Saturday. Twenty years after the team moved to Texas, Minnesota North Stars apparel is still quite popular at Wild home games and in the arena’s team store.