ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nino Niederreiter wasn’t sure it was a goal.
But when Wild linemate Zach Parise started to celebrate and Niederreiter spotted the puck lodged deep in the net, he knew.
His 27-game scoreless skid was over.
“It was just a relief, waiting,” he said. “I kind of totally forgot how to score goals, so I finally got a way to get a goal in.”
The timing of Niederreiter’s goal was spot on, as he put in motion a 3-1 rally over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. But how he scored was also key because it underscored his blueprint for success — using his 6-foot-2, 218-pound frame to post up in the crease.
“That’s where my bread and butter is, in front of the net,” he said. “I’ve just got to get there, and hopefully pucks are starting to find me more and more and try to get my shot off when I can and just go to the net.”
Even when he struggled to convert, Niederreiter was still reporting to the blue paint.
Since he wasn’t getting rewarded for it, though, the lack of production started to take its toll mentally.
“That’s the toughest thing, staying positive in those moments,” Niederreiter said. “But it makes it a lot easier that we’ve been doing well, and as long as the team is winning, it makes it a lot easier. But it was definitely frustrating at some points.”
Despite feeling that way, Niederreiter continued to work.
Lately, he had been around the puck — racking up three assists in the three games before Thursday’s. And he had Bruce Boudreau’s trust, with the Wild coach deploying Niederreiter late in that Oct. 30 victory over the Oilers to preserve a one-goal lead.
Effort like that doesn’t go unnoticed, and when Niederreiter finally scored, directing in a puck in front on the power play, the entire group seemed to bask in his accomplishment.
“It’s the sign of a close team when everybody on the bench was screaming his name and was more happy for him than they were for an actual goal,” Boudreau said.
Niederreiter ended up next to Parise and captain Mikko Koivu on Thursday after Koivu mentioned to Boudreau recently that the three, a forward unit on the power play, could also be an even-strength trio.
Boudreau agreed, and the switch certainly flattered everyone; not only did Niederreiter climb out of his scoring funk, but Parise had a goal and an assist and Koivu set up three goals.
“I thought we did a decent job below the goal line [and] made some plays up ice,” Parise said. “Power play’s been clicking for us. When you get a power-play goal, you feel like 5-on-5 becomes easier. It’s a funny thing, but when we were able to get out of the zone, I thought we were getting up the ice pretty clean.”
The first goal against the Kings was the seventh by the Wild’s power play over the past six games; those seven goals since Oct. 27 ranked first in the NHL, while the unit’s 30.4 percent efficiency during that span sat third — a consistency the team attributes to everyone on both units settling into their roles.
“We’re starting to figure out what our outs are, what our options are, and we’re shooting,” Parise said. “We’re getting shots, and we’re getting ugly ones. So it’s something for us to build off of.”
Zero to 100
Joel Eriksson Ek skated in his 100th NHL game Friday vs. Anaheim, and the center reached the milestone still seeking his first goal and point of the season. He quickly got it, getting an assist on Jordan Greenway’s goal in the opening minutes of the Wild’s 5-1 victory over the Ducks.
“You can’t have a third-line center with no points,” Boudreau said. “It just doesn’t work in this league. He’s never going to be, I don’t think, a 40-goal scorer. But at the same time, as hard as he works and as well as he forechecks and as good as a penalty killer he is, we need some production out of him.
“He knows it; sometimes he puts a little too much pressure on himself. But right now, I just keep throwing him out there. [He] keeps playing his 14 minutes a night, and hopefully just like Nino he bangs one in and all of a sudden fortunes change for him.”