ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The day before Tuesday night's game against Nashville, Wild winger Zach Parise scolded his team for being too content to play around the perimeter. "I don't think we're creating enough scoring chances around the net," he said. "We've got to do a better job of that."
That, Parise reminded, was how to score goals in the NHL -- and he was proved right in a 2-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild ended a three-game winless streak when Justin Fontaine drove to the net and knocked in the rebound of a Clayton Stoner shot at 18 minutes, 53 seconds of the second period. Fontaine, who scored his second NHL goal, was elevated to the top line with Parise and Mikko Koivu only minutes earlier as coach Mike Yeo tried to spark a team mired in a scoring slump.
In many ways, the game mirrored the Wild's pattern of rolling to a big advantage in shots with little to show for it. It outshot Nashville 29-16 and outplayed the Predators for long stretches. Jason Pominville added an empty-net goal in the final minute, ending a streak in which the Wild managed only one goal in each of the previous three games.
The Wild's defensive corps suffered a major blow early in the game. Jonas Brodin was struck in the face by a puck off the stick of Nashville's Gabriel Bourque at 2:54 and crumpled to the ice. He was led up the tunnel with a towel over his mouth and did not return to the game.
Despite his absence, the Wild was again magnificent on defense, holding Nashville to three shots on goal in the first period and nine through the initial 40 minutes. The Wild, which leads the NHL in fewest shots allowed per game, outshot its opponent for the eighth time in 10 games. Goalie Josh Harding made 16 saves to stop a team that was 4-0-1 in its previous five games.
Yeo predicted a "scratch-and-claw-type" game that would require the Wild to fight for position in front of the net if they hoped to get past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. "We're going to have to try to get dirty and get to the hard areas of the ice," Yeo said. "(Rinne) does a great job making the first save, so we need to create secondary opportunities around the net."
The Wild didn't lack for effort. But as Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman might say, its execution frequently was a hair off. Shots sailed wide. Passes slightly missed their marks. Players got to the net but often could not get their sticks on rebounds for quality chances.
Rinne proved Yeo correct, turning away everything the Wild sent his way over the first 38 minutes. The Wild created some fine chances, particularly on a pair of first-period power plays. Rinne got help from the left goalpost on a Ryan Suter blast, and Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Marco Scandella all fired good shots. But once the goalie blocked those first attempts, the Wild could not muster a successful follow-up.
The Predators could not muster much at all. The Wild's solid defense allowed it to control the puck for long stretches, as it piled up a 13-3 advantage in shots after one period and a 24-9 edge after two.
Their best chance came late in the second period. Craig Smith fed the puck ahead to Eric Nystrom, who skated in alone. But Nystrom put the puck into Harding's pads, and just over a minute later, the Wild broke through.
Stoner took a cross-ice pass from Parise above the left circle, and Rinne dived to his left to stop Stoner's shot. As the goalie lay on the ice, Fontaine darted to the net, corralled the rebound and scored.
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