ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kaapo Kahkonen made 26 saves to notch his first career shutout for the Minnesota Wild in a 2-0 victory over Vegas on Monday night that stopped the West Division-leading Golden Knights' six-game winning streak.
The unflappable Kahkonen won his seventh consecutive start, extending his franchise rookie goalie record and improving to 10-4 in his debut season. The 24-year-old native of Finland has allowed only 10 goals over his seven-game streak, impressing the Wild with his confidence and demeanour.
“I think if you want to be calm, you want to look calm,” Kahkonen said. "Then your teammates see you’re doing your job, and they can focus on their job. I think that’s what it’s all about, and good to hear it looks like that. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”
Kevin Fiala scored his team-lead-tying eighth goal of the season in the first period. That was the only blemish against Golden Knights star Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 19 shots.
Jonas Brodin was awarded a goal for the Wild after being slashed from behind with 6 seconds left as he approached the empty net. The insurance goal wouldn't have been possible without Kahkonen, who has begun to overtake Cam Talbot as the primary netminder as the Wild (14-8-1) chase the Golden Knights (16-5-1) in the top-heavy division.
“Unbelievable goalie. He makes saves. He finds rebounds,” Fiala said.
Calm isn't really a skill that can be taught.
“My guess is he’s been like that his entire life,” Wild coach Dean Evason said.
Vegas, which had 19 goals over its previous four games, had not scored fewer than two in almost a month. The Wild caught a break when the Golden Knights scratched two of their best players because of unspecified injuries, captain and right wing Mark Stone and defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. Stone entered the evening seventh in the NHL with 21 assists, one of the key cogs in a deep collection of forward lines on a team that ranked fifth in goals per game as the week began.
“I really felt with our depth we could compete, and we did. I thought defensively and with our goaltender, we gave ourselves a chance tonight,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We just didn’t do enough to score.”
Fleury, who posted his fourth shutout of the season on Saturday at San Jose, did all he could to keep the Golden Knights close as they hit the halfway point of a six-game, nine-day road trip. DeBoer predicted in the morning this would be the most difficult of these contests considering the Wild were outscored 10-5 over two losses — one in overtime — in Las Vegas last week.
The Golden Knights started rather slowly and a bit sloppily, and a giveaway in their attacking zone set the Wild up for an early lead. Victor Rask snagged the puck, pivoted and passed it to send Fiala the other way on a two-on-one rush with Zach Parise. Fiala used Parise as a decoy and swooped in to snap a wrist shot over Fleury's shoulder midway through the first period.
“He makes that move, fakes a shot and kind of freezes my feet a bit and takes a step toward the middle and gave himself a better angle to shoot that puck,” Fleury said. “It was a quick shot.”
The Wild went 0 for 2 on the power play and fell to a league-worst 6.8% conversion rate (5 for 74). The Golden Knights are second in the league in penalty killing at 88.1% (52 out of 59).
AROUND THE RINK
Pietrangelo and Stone will be evaluated again before their status for the next game is determined, DeBoer said. ... The Wild have won four straight home games. ... Stone won NHL's first star award for his performance last week, with two goals and eight assists in four games. That included a career-high five assists against Minnesota on March 1. Stone entered the game tied for fourth in the league with a plus-14 rating.
After a rematch here on Wednesday, the Golden Knights travel to St. Louis to play the Blues on Friday and Saturday. The Wild stay home for three straight games against the Arizona Coyotes, on Friday, Sunday and March 16.
More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports