NEW 'VETS LINE' HELPS LEAD WILD TO WEEKEND SWEEPNov 25, 2019
By Tom Witosky
JT Brown laughed out loud when asked if he and his Iowa Wild linemates Gabriel Dumont and Cody McLeod should be nicknamed the ‘Vets Line’ or the ‘Old Guys Line.’
“Oh please not the ‘Old Guys Line,’” Brown said. “I like the ‘Vets Line’. That’s got a nice sound to it.”
At the same time, Brown wondered out loud if the veteran combination put together by the Iowa coaching staff for the first time during the Wild’s 6-5 shootout loss to Milwaukee a week ago might be one of the most experienced trios to play together on an American Hockey League team.
“I know we all have played a lot of games,” Brown said.
For the record, Brown, with 365 NHL games and 89 AHL games in his career, has the fewest total of the three at 454. McLeod has played the most with a total of 921 – 776 NHL games and 145 AHL games. Dumont, who played in his 500th AHL game last week, has a combined total of 592.
That’s a lot of games, but if the line’s performance last week is any indication of what’s to come this season, the Wild is going to have a lot of success. In the last three games, in which Iowa collected five of a possible six standings points, the line members scored four goals and four assists in regulation.
McLeod, who had only one goal going into the weekend series with Bakersfield, scored twice and had a third goal disallowed by officials, who called “incidental” goalie interference on the play. Brown also added the winning shootout goal Sunday in the 3-2 win over Bakersfield.
Head Coach Tim Army, who moved McLeod to the first line as part of the adjustment to losing Kyle Rau to injury during the Milwaukee game, said he had an inkling the three might work well.
“In practice, I had noticed they seemed to work well,” Army said. “They play a really good north-south game and are a good forechecking line.”
Army said McLeod’s addition helped Brown and Dumont focus on the linear game that gets them in front of the goal as much as possible on every shift.
“They're all north-south players that are good on the forecheck and once they get some loose pucks, they do a good job of getting pucks and their bodies to the net,” Army said.
McLeod said he doesn’t have a preference on what the line should be called, but said it’s fun playing with that line.
“We're all just kind of hard workers out there and generate stuff down low,” McLeod said. “So far, so good.”
Odds and Ends
All three of last week’s games followed the same pattern, with the Wild falling behind early.
Even though the team would come back into the lead in all three games, Army said he’d sure like an early lead to break the pattern.
“Coach mentioned it before the game,” defenseman Matt Bartkowski said following Sunday’s contest.
Army pointed out the Wild has to overcome opponents’ leads in 13 games so far this season.
“We’ve had the lead in only six of 19 games, but we’ve been persistent in each one of the games and that is what has paid off,” Army said.
What’s more frustrating is that the Wild started strong in each of the games and had several chances to score, but couldn’t finish.
“We've started games better this year than we did last year,” Army said. “But we just haven’t capitalized on our early chances like last year.”
Keeping the lead a priority
After the Wild blew a two-goal lead late to Milwaukee in the 6-5 shootout loss, the team discussed the necessity to do what’s necessary to finish games well.
“We’ve blown a few leads last couple of weeks so it was good to come back and take one when we were down and going into the third,” Bartkowski said after Sunday’s shootout win over Bakersfield.
Army said the meeting on holding leads wasn’t negative, but reviewed what the club needs to do when the opposition pulls its goalie at the end of the game.
“It was about what we need to do five-on-six or late in the game and when we have a lead,” Army said. “Our philosophy has always been, if we're up 4-2, we want to make it 5-2.”
Rookies play a big part in weekend sweep
Wild rookies Connor Dewar, Brandon Duhaime, Nico Sturm, Josh Atkinson, Turner Ottenbreit, Matt Register, and Mat Robson all played big roles in the Wild’s wins on Saturday and Sunday.
Dewar scored his second goal of the season when he beat Condors goalie Stuart Skinner with a wicked wrist shot from above the circles to tie Saturday’s game 2-2 in the early third period. Dewar’s goal came with an assist from Atkinson.
Ottenbreit had an assist on Cody McLeod’s game-winning goal Saturday that included the rookie defensemen making several plays to keep the puck inside the Condors’ zone leading up to the score.
Robson, who took over as the Wild’s top goalie when Minnesota called up Kaapo Kahkonen, collected two wins in tightly-fought games with the Condors. He gave up only two goals in each game and made several saves in late in both contests to keep the Wild in control.
While Sturm and Duhaime didn’t score (although Sturm did net a goal during Sunday's shootout), they peppered the Condors goalies with 15 shots between them, including five shots each on Sunday.
Army said the rookies have stepped up at a time when there have been injuries that could have created problems for the team continuing to win.
“We are down a number of players because of injuries or illness,” said Army, who pointed out that both veteran defensemen Hunter Warner and Keeton Thompson had to be replaced. “They all have stepped up to the plate.”
Shots, Shots, Shots
The Wild continues to lead the AHL in shots on goal with 712 in 19 games. Laval ranks second with 689; San Antonio ranks third with 676. More importantly, the Wild is 9-3-0-2 when outshooting opponents.