ANAHEIM, Calif. – The start of the game was sloppy.
Both teams looked as if they were sleepwalking their way through the action.
And with a late-arriving crowd at Staples Center, a subdued vibe hung over the ice.
So Wild winger Chris Stewart decided the time was right to drop his gloves.
“I thought we could use a spark and get that jump,” he said.
Stewart fought 6-foot-5, 233-pound Kings defenseman Kurtis MacDermid after a faceoff in Los Angeles’ end just over 6 minutes into Tuesday night’s game, trading punches with MacDermid for nearly 30 seconds as they roved around the zone.
It wasn’t the first time this season Stewart has tried to boost the Wild, as he tussled with the Blues’ Chris Thorburn Nov. 25 after the Wild stumbled into an early two-goal hole at St. Louis.
And while fighting in the NHL has diminished over the years, it remains one of Stewart’s job descriptions with the Wild — a role he is comfortable fulfilling.
“That’s part of Stewie’s game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When he does it, he’s usually pretty good at it. It gets him going. It gets us going.”
Through Thursday’s action, the NHL averaged 0.21 fights per game. Not only is this a drop from the 0.30 average in 2016-17, but it’s a far cry from the 0.60 clip less than 10 years ago in 2008-09.
But Stewart continues to prepare to fight.
During the offseason, he works with a boxing/MMA coach, an exercise he added to his training five or six years ago. He also takes pride in his ability to pick his spots, since the momentum shift he’s after can go either way.
This season, though, the intended lift hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“You see how much he really cares about this team enough to try to get us a spark and try to do that,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “That’s a tough thing to do. Just that aspect alone, you really understand what he brings to the team and him trying to get us going, it does help.”
While fighting between heavyweights enforcers has dropped significantly, bouts such as Stewart’s to set a tone still exist. And that’s how the act is remaining relevant in the NHL.
“I still think it has a place in hockey,” Stewart said. “It’s the only sport man-to-man guys can settle their differences. You don’t want to see [Sidney] Crosby and [Jonathan] Toews squaring off or stuff like that. But it’s a hard-nosed game, and it’s a game of emotions. As long as there are emotions in the game, guys are going to find each other.”
PP vs. PK
Entering Friday night’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Ducks, the Wild had received the second-fewest power plays in the league (80) while getting whistled for 112 penalties — a difference Boudreau can’t explain.
“I wish there was some sort of formula that you knew how to handle this,” he said. “We’re not a really aggressive team, so I don’t understand [why] there’s such a big disparity. … I’m yelling at the refs more probably.”
Stop and start
The 5-2 loss to the Kings on Tuesday was the third time this season the Wild has been unable to extend a two-game winning streak to three, a trend that has no doubt highlighted the team’s inconsistency.
“We won four in a row once, and that’s been the best we got,” Boudreau said. “And I think we lost three in a row once, and that’s the worst we got. Getting to play at the level you have to play to be consistently good has been a little difficult, but we strive for it.”
Center Matt Cullen was scratched Friday, the first game he has missed this season. Cullen hasn’t scored since Nov. 2, a 16-game drought in which he has chipped in only two assists.
The Wild scratched defenseman Gustav Olofsson for a third consecutive game.