Kevin Fiala’s move in Saturday’s overtime win was a thing of beauty. He collected a puck in the neutral and singlehandedly started the rush by skillfully passing behind the back to himself. He finished the sequence with a laser to lift the Wild to a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Talking about the move a couple of days later, Wild coach Dean Evason was most appreciative of the fact that Fiala stayed responsible with the puck. While the move itself was flashy on the surface, a closer look shows that Fiala gave himself some margin for error.
He didn’t try to beat a guy one-on-one in the neutral zone. He simply pushed the puck ahead with open ice in front of him.
“We talk to Kevin all the time about being creative,” Evason said. “We want it in are areas where if we don’t have success beating a guy, or making that move, the other team has to come a long way in order to get an opportunity at our net. He’s worked toward that. He’s done a good job of it as of late. He has to continue to do that.”
To be clear, the Wild encourage creativity, as long as it’s done responsibly. Asked how he coaches the art of being creative, Evason quipped, “You tell them, ‘Don’t turn the bloody puck over in the neutral and at the blue lines.'”
That doesn’t just go for Fiala. It goes for superstar rookie Kirill Kaprizov, dynamic defenseman Matt Dumba, and every other player on the team.
“It’s simple,” Evason added. “Don’t go through people. Don’t try to put the puck between a guy’s stick or between his legs where the other team has an opportunity to go stick on puck. Don’t do that.”
As far as Evason is concerned, those types of plays are high-risk, low-reward. The best-case scenario is the Wild gain the offensive zone with some speed. The worst case-scenario is the Wild leave goaltenders Cam Talbot or Kaapo Kahkonen out on an island.
It’s a completely different story if the Wild have the puck in the offensive zone. If below the hash marks, for example, Evason give his players carte blanche to try whatever they want.
“If it gets turned over, we have an opportunity to get back, and we hopefully have other teammates that have the opportunity to check from there,” Evason said. “You can be creative down there. Just be a little more simple and don’t expose the puck in those areas where we can turn it over.”
Marcus Johansson missed Monday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights as he continues to nurse an upper-body injury. He did partake in morning skate in the hours leading up tot he matchup, so it doesn’t appear to be anything too serious.
“He’s fine,” Evason said. “He could play tonight. We just aren’t going to put him in.”