NEW YORK – Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek wasn’t picky.
After going 50 games sans a goal, he was hoping the puck would dive into the net any way possible.
So the Charlie Coyle windup that bounced off him and behind goalie Jaroslav Halak, the first wave of offense from the Wild in a 5-3 win over the Islanders on Monday at Barclays Center, worked just fine for Eriksson Ek.
“That was very nice, what I needed,” he said. “Somebody just threw the puck at me and into the net. It was nice it went in.”
Before the tally, Eriksson Ek hadn’t scored since the first game of the season. But his work away from the puck has kept him in the lineup since he’s a tenacious forechecker and penalty-kill option. With the 21-year-old handling those responsibilities, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau told Eriksson Ek that scoring “doesn’t matter” this season, as Boudreau believes that touch will come in time.
But the goal Monday was no doubt rewarding for Eriksson Ek and the team.
“I think he was the happiest man in the country right there,” Boudreau said. “That was really good, and we all wanted him to get it. We know how hard he works and how hard he tries.”
After getting benched for much of the third period Saturday in the 3-2 shootout loss to the Ducks, Nino Niederreiter was back in the mix against the Islanders.
Niederreiter committed two penalties Saturday, one of which Anaheim capitalized on — the latest round of adversity for him. While he made it clear it isn’t an excuse, Niederreiter has acknowledged his health won’t be “completely right” until next season.
The 25-year-old suffered a high left ankle sprain Oct. 12 that cost him six games and was injured again Dec. 22 against the Panthers. After getting an X-ray, Niederreiter thought he was dealing with a bone bruise with the same ankle. He sat out five games and then returned for two.
“All of a sudden, I couldn’t skate anymore,” Niederreiter said. “Something was off.”
Another X-ray determined Niederreiter actually had a fractured fibula. That’s healed now, after he missed another eight games to rest up, but he’s still building up trust that he can compete like he wants.
Defenseman Nick Seeler hasn’t left the Wild lineup since he made his NHL debut a week ago and earned a promotion in his fourth straight appearance Monday, lining up next to Jared Spurgeon on the second pairing.
“He competes really hard,” Boudreau said. “And if anybody can play with a young guy on our team, I think it’s Spurge. [Gustav Olofsson] and [Nate Prosser] have played together most of the year. So I thought it was good and giving him confidence, and I thought he did a good job.”
A hard-nosed defender recalled by the Wild from the minors after Jonas Brodin was sidelined following hand surgery, Seeler has skated as advertised; not only has he been gritty in his own end, but his awareness and battle level have also been key.
“I’ve just tried to calm down and play my game,” Seeler said. “Be tough in front of the net and the corners. Obviously, if you go up a level, it’s obviously a little faster. Guys are a little stronger, but I think I’m adjusting well.”
Brodin underwent surgery to repair his broken left hand less than two weeks ago, but he’s already been skating and handled the puck Sunday — developments that make it seem like Brodin could be ahead of schedule during a recovery that was initially pegged at three to four weeks.