SAN JOSE, Calif. – Center Eric Staal missing the game Tuesday against the Sharks meant the Wild would be without one of its top scorers, but the hole in the lineup also created an opportunity for someone else to shine.
And the candidates were plenty, with coach Bruce Boudreau identifying center Joel Eriksson Ek and wingers Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter as possibilities.
But that lift didn’t come, and the Wild fell 4-3 to the Sharks at SAP Center – a setback at the start of three straight in California.
“Every game is a battle and if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game every night, then you’re not going to win,” Boudreau said. “Too many mistakes were made for it to be an ‘A’ game.”
With Staal absent due to illness, the Wild juggled its look up front; only the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund line remained intact from last game.
But the forward lines struggled to find a rhythm; that isn’t an excuse, but the punch up front that the Wild had Saturday in a 5-1 rout of the Blues was clearly missing.
“You expect that when a guy is out – you expect him to throw different combinations out there,” Parise said. “Power plays are going to be a little different. You’re just kind of ready for whatever comes.”
Although the forwards were able to contribute a goal ( a power-play marker from Parise), the defense was responsible for most of the offense amid two third-period goals that tied it at 3.
Jared Spurgeon had the first before Matt Dumba secured the second on a blistering shot through traffic.
“As a group of six back there, we can all skate,” Spurgeon said. “We can get up and join the rush and fortunately enough, we had some chances today to do that. It goes to show, too, that with our forwards getting to the net and creating some good screens, I think none of those would have went in I don’t think. Maybe Dumbs, but as a group back there we’re always trying to create something for the forwards.”
Since Staal was unavailable, the Wild tabbed veteran Matt Hendricks to play his first game since he suffered a lower-body injury Oct.16 against the Coyotes.
“It was fun to get back out there in this building, a good atmosphere to play in on the road, and it was a gutsy effort on our part,” Hendricks said. “Just didn't come up with the 'W.'"
Boudreau hopes Staal will be feeling better in time to face the Kings Thursday.
“He was sick today, so we’ll just see how he is tomorrow,” Boudreau said. “When he left, he thought he was feeling better but he was your basic sick most of the afternoon.”