The chemistry between Gaudreau and Fiala on full display for Minnesota Wild
Frederick Gaudreau and Kevin Fiala have been joined at the hip since the Minnesota Wild’s puck drop for this season. It’s a pairing that head coach Dean Evason conjured up almost immediately and stuck with despite a lot of uncertainty and doubt, but the team is reaping the rewards now.
Thursday, when the team visited the Dallas Stars, it was a two-man show. No other player produced anything – nothing materialized unless it was on one of Fiala’s or Gaudreau’s sticks.
With help from secondary teammate Matt Boldy on the game’s first goal to shake things up in Texas, Gaudreau was able to quickly set up Fiala for a tap-in in front of the net just minutes in the game. And to regain the lead, the pair combined the penalty to give the Swiss skater his first shorthanded goal of his career – which is honestly surprising.
The duo themselves aren’t quite sure what makes them so well connected.
“I don’t know why, I think we can relate to each other pretty well,” Gaudreau said after Dallas’ 3-2 overtime win. “I can also feel when Kevin is going on the attack and I can support him. I think we read each other pretty well, but he’s so quick and strong and he also does good reads with his stick, so it’s easy to play with him shorthanded.
Gaudreau has always been known as a defensively focused centre, so balancing that with the cutting edge offense that Fiala is known to provide, has been an interesting development throughout most of this season. Almost as if the center knows his role on the line and shouldn’t be overzealous with his attacking chances. Staying back and making smart reads – using the ability to read offenses without the puck, then turn it around and use that same skill to make offensive plays with possession.
“I mean, he’s done a great job all season,” Fiala said. “Defensively, he has a good stick. It helps a lot. He saves us a lot in the defensive zone. He is still there and offensive too. You can see it now. The OT goal, he passes it to me (for) the two (my goals) today. Excellent passes.
It’s not just the players who are noticing this, but the man who brought them together months ago is noticing their recent connection improvement.
“He’s been really good, hasn’t he?” Evason said. “Obviously Kevin scored (twice). But [Gaudreau] does everything. He’s such a good defender. Just a smart player. Big hands. Good speed. Good playmaker and wonderful teammate.
“Freddy Gaudreau protects (Fiala), not only on the PK”, continued Evason. “I’m not going to tell Kevin and I hope he doesn’t watch (that), but you have to give guys like that some freedom, and you hope they’re with people who understand, what Freddy is doing.. Kevin might anticipate – I almost said cheat, but I’ll say anticipate – and try to go (offend) and Freddy won’t. He will allow Kevin to do it in anticipation, and he will take care of the rest.
“When Kevin gets a little excited about attacking, that’s when he starts cheating a little bit. I think he recognized that. Obviously we talked to him a lot, but more importantly he understands how and when to go and that he takes care of business and not just trying to score goals because at this time of year you can’t do that. can’t do that or it will end up in our net, and he’s done a good job of acknowledging that.
Gaudreau seems to give some responsibility to Fiala, always offensive. And it’s not like the winger doesn’t have the skating ability to overcome any delayed rush, even if that means waiting for his cross to make a smarter but less responsive play.
There’s just something about them that works, and the Wild have now found several diamonds in the center to complement their top-notch wingers. If you saw that Gaudreau and Ryan Hartman were two of three centers in a team’s top nine before this season, you’d assume something had gone astray and this team is deliberately going for the draw. But it’s just works; Minnesota understands what their system and what their talented players need in linemates and they went out and got those players on the cheap.
It hasn’t been recognized enough how good a job this team has done in finding quality players who contribute fairly regularly seemingly out of nowhere. Both were signed as unrestricted free agents for salaries under $2 million. Seemingly impossible in this era of superstars, but the Wild came out and did it.
We can complain again and again about a certain Austrian-born center prospect who should be in the NHL, but honestly right now things are working as expected and beyond expectation. The line with Gaudreau, Fiala and Boldy scored 68.42% of the goals when they were on the ice at 5 against 5 and controls 54.79% of the share of expected goals in the same state of play. Numbers under incredible backgrounds to reinforce the decision to put them together.
There will be a time and a place for these two to eventually part ways, but things are kicking in at a higher level than ever and they are doing so just weeks before the playoffs. It could be fun.