Over the Slump
Image courtesy of © Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportsUnder former head coach Mike Yeo, the Wild seasons seemed scripted. They’d start off hot, one of the best teams in hockey. They’d lose before Thanksgiving and then fall into a slump for December and January and then fight down the stretch to creep into the playoffs.
That hasn’t been the case so far this season. Minnesota just won its seventh straight game, maintaining its spot as not only the second best team in the Central Division, but also the Western Conference. The Wild is also eight points behind Chicago with four games in hand, so theoretically it could be atop the Western Conference.
That is a position new Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau is rather familiar with. His Anaheim Ducks were always near the top of the standings. And now Bruce has brought that experience to the State of Hockey. A lot of that can be seen in the success of his players.
Nino Niederreiter is one of those players excelling under Boudreau. El Nino picked up 2 assists in Smashville on the Wild’s second and third goals and created a perfect screen for Jonas Brodin’s goal (which he didn’t tally an assist on). Those 2 points have him sitting at 12 points in his last 13 games and was riding a 4-game point streak before the Coyotes game. Something else to note is Niederreiter has found that success with any line he’s played on. Whether it was with Coyle and Staal, Haula and Pominville, or now Coyle and Haula, he’s put up the points. He’s brought his physical play and a scoring touch. He’s easily been one of Minnesota’s best players the last month and huge part of this winning streak.
Devan Dubnyk goes without saying. The Wild goaltender has been lights out all year. We’ve talked and tweeted about him a bunch here at Wild Xtra so I’m not going to waste your time repeating what you already know. He leads the NHL in GAA, Sv%, and Shutouts and he hasn’t lost in regulation in 10 games. What else is there to say really? Vezina.
The Granlund-Koivu-Zucker line has been fantastic on this winning streak as well. Granlund with two points also against Nashville, has had at least point in 5 of the last 6 games is tied with for third on the team in points with 20. Mikko Koivu has 11 points in his last 12 games and has been a monster in the faceoff circle, including a 21 of 23 night in Edmonton. Koivu was also told to shutdown McDavid that night by Boudreau. He did that very well. Zucker seems to be finding his stride as well. He has 9 points is his last 11 games. This line has been on fire and it’s great to see because this trio is often that talk of the Wild community as players not producing to their potential. I think, for now at least, we can stop complaining about them.
The Minnesota Wild fourth line of Gabriel, Graovac, and Stewart has been terrific as well. Not going to dive into this too much because Doubles wrote about it on Thursday, but in summary, four line teams win games and the Wild’s fourth line is doing its part.
Let’s talk about the NHL’s Third Star of the Week, Eric Staal, a little bit too. Staal was tied for the NHL lead in goals last week with 4. He leads the Wild in goals, assists, and points with a stat line of 10-14-24. Staal is also donning a rather impressive +13 rating this season as well. At a cap hit of $3.33 million, Staal is everything the Wild hoped he would be and has been the a perfect #1 center. Staal is also on pace to have better season than any of his last four. Absolutely no complaints here.
One final thing I want to attribute to this post-Thanksgiving success is the play of Zach Parise. Parise seems to be back to his old self. Getting into the gritty areas, playing hard with two hands on his stick, making plays, and most importantly, scoring. There was a lot of speculation, including by Boudreau, if Parise was fully healthy. I think he’s put that worry to rest as his speed and heart seem to both be back at 100%.
The Wild host the Avalanche tonight and are looking to make it eight straight. Is there anything else that you think is playing a role in Minnesota’s success the past month and during this winning streak? As always, let us know in the comments.
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