The Wild started Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets looking for more, a testament to the team’s ambitions despite early injury issues that have been exacerbated by the fact Minnesota has almost zero salary cap space.
They started the 7 p.m. puck drop at Xcel Energy Center with a 2-2-0 record, roughly $10,000 in cap space and injuries to captain Jared Spurgeon, second-line wing Matt Boldy and veteran blue liner Alex Goligoski.
Before Saturday’s game, head coach Dean Evason said that in general, he and his staff have liked the way the team has played early, even in a 7-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in which they lost a 2-1, first period lead in the span of about 10 minutes, and that got out of hand with two empty-net goals late.
“We want to continue to stay positive about the way we’re playing,” Evason said. “But having said all that, you need the results, too, and we haven’t got the exact results that we want.”
It’s also early, and inconsistencies tend to go line to line.
One of the Wild’s best lines has been the fourth with Connor Dewar between Brandon Duhaime and Pat Maroon. Duhaime and Dewar combined for three goals and five points in the first four games — and scored shorthanded 26 seconds apart in a 5-2 victory at Montreal — but Duhaime said this week he, too, is looking to tighten some things.
“Just some wall play, forechecking-wise, chemistry-wise — there’s a few mis-hits there, and communication is big, and finding that chemistry doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “So, that’s all important.”
Evason and his staff have at least temporarily broken up the fourth line, moving Maroon up to the second line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson, and inserting rookie Sammy Walker into the Dewar line.
That’s mostly because of Boldy’s absence. He suffered an upper body injury in a 7-4 loss at Toronto and just started skating this week. Walker played in his place on Tuesday, but the staff liked the idea of adding his speed — and scoring ability — to Duhaime and Dewar.
“Now we’ve got a line that’s full speed, they can go, they can skate and we expect them to score as much as we expect (the other lines),” Evason said.
Walker, who scored a goal in nine NHL games last season and then three in preseason games this fall, was eager to start trying.
“We’re going to try to push the pace and try to make something happen,” the former Gophers star from Edina said. “For me, I’m just trying to use my speed and push the pace and trying to bring that energy and cause turnovers — be disruptive.”
Maroon was moved to the second line to take Boldy’s spot with Eriksson Ek and Johansson. The veteran wing has been a defensive presence and an offensive creator early.
“He’s earned the right to get that opportunity,” Evason said.
The coach also didn’t want to break up the third line of Marco Rossi playing between Freddie Gaudreau and Marcus Foligno.
“I think arguably Rossi’s line has been our best line, probably consistently, through the first bit here, so we didn’t want to touch that,” Evason said.
Boldy and Spurgeon (upper body) remain week to week, although each is skating to, in Evason’s words, stay in hockey shape so they can expedite their returns when ready.
— Evason said the staff wasn’t enamored of the way the Wild had started in their four previous games, so he canceled Saturday’s morning skate in an effort to shake something up. “Hopefully it translates right from the drop of the puck,” Evason said.
— Filip Gustavsson was back in net for Saturday’s game after two starts by Marc-Andre Fleury.
After 2-2 start, Wild ‘need to take another step forward’
Wild puzzled over phantom goal that turned tide in 7-3 loss to Kings
Even for the Wild, Connor Dewar and Brandon Duhaime joined at the hip
Kirill Kaprizov finds his game, Wild find salary cap relief
On special night for Marc-Andre Fleury, special teams go Wild