MINNEAPOLIS – When John Torchetti took over as the Minnesota Wild’s interim coach about a week ago, he had confidence that forwards Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek could regain their scoring touch.
“Pominville's scored before, Vanek has scored before,” Torchetti said. “So just work with them a little bit on the side, one-on-one, just trying to create that feeling that we're going to count on you.”
He didn’t quite realize the two – especially Pominville – would be able to figure out their offense so quickly.
Pominville and Vanek continued their recent surges in Minnesota’s 6-1 drubbing of the Chicago Blackhawks during Sunday's Stadium Series game at a chilly and cloudy TCF Bank Stadium.
Vanek scored a goal, a power play deflection off a Pominville shot at the 7:10 mark of the first period. Pominville scored one goal and added two assists.
In the four games since Torchetti took over, Pominville has six points and Vanek has three points – including two goals.
Both have produced prolific offense when they were teammates with the Buffalo Sabres from 2005-06 through 2012-13. With that group, Pominville had five seasons of 62 points or more. Vanek scored 40-or-more goals twice, but with the Wild this season they had both fallen on hard times. Before Torchetti took over, Pominville had just 21 points in 55 games. Vanek had 15 goals in 54 games played.
“I think Torch has definitely stepped in and kind of gave us freedom to make more plays offensively and came in with new ideas and created a spark for our team,” Pominville said. “You've seen it with a lot of guys getting on the score sheet, and it's been fun.”
Torchetti has preached aggressiveness, allowing the Wild to attack at points where under former coach Mike Yeo they may have held back. He’s also put players like Pominville and Vanek in spots where they’ve had success.
Pominville’s goal came as he circled off the boards and took a feed from Nino Niederreiter, burying a shot past Corey Crawford. This put the game at 4-0 in favor of Minnesota.
“I've played in different positions this year, positions that, to be honest with you, I've never really played. I mean I started the year net front and then was half wall for a little while and now I'm back to defense where I've pretty much played since I've been pro. So he's also come up with some new ideas to create more offense, which has helped us,” Pominville said. “And it's kind of given us the green light to make plays offensively, whether you're behind the net in the offensive zone, you can make plays as long as you come back and defend.”
Overall, Pominville, who is in the second season of a five-year, $28 million contract, assisted or scored on Minnesota’s second, third and fourth goals, which blew the game open over the Central Division leading Blackhawks in front of an announced crowd of 50,426.
“I think at one point I was trying to -- just thinking too much and not going out there and playing,” Pominville said. “And I just said go out there and play and have fun and that's what we've been doing.”
Vanek has been a tougher player for the Wild to solve. He signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract in the summer of 2014, and since then his offense hasn’t clicked in the Twin Cities. Last season, Vanek notched just 21 scores, a career low. This year, he’s been a healthy scratch at points.
Torchetti has focused on Vanek’s confidence. If Vanek is scoring, his production lifts the Wild overall and adds a sniper element that few on the team can provide. So instead of trying to make Vanek play a certain way, he’s given the player more freedon.
“Any time a coach change happens I think it gives everyone a kind of re-start button and I think you can see it,” Vanek said. “I think everyone is making plays where a week ago maybe we weren’t making plays, myself included.”
Though Sunday’s contest loomed large, it was just one of 82 for the Wild this season. The group has played four games under Torchetti, going 4-0-0, and has yet to experience any kind of major adversity. Minnesota has 64 points, one out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
There’s still a honeymoon stretch between the team and their new coach. But he’s figuring out the right buttons with his team, especially with guys who need to be pushed, and that was clear Sunday.
“This is about confidence and he gave everyone a restart and a reset button, and you see it in our game,” Vanek. “We’re scoring goals, we’re getting leads and we’re not afraid to hold the lead and keep going after it.”
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY
- - - - - - -