Just when the Wild patched up one hole in its lineup, another leak sprouted.
Captain Mikko Koivu is ready to return after missing four games with a lower-body injury, but the finale of a four-game homestand against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday also signals the start of a push without defenseman Matt Dumba.
He’ll be out at least this week with an upper-body injury suffered Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames.
Dumba logged 5 minutes, 37 seconds of ice time in the first period, which included a fight with winger Matthew Tkachuk only 40 seconds after puck drop, but he didn’t return for the second and third periods.
Back-to-back injuries to key players while vying to climb back into a playoff position represents a unique test the Wild had yet to face this season, but the flip side of adversity is the chance it creates for others to deliver.
And the Wild has plenty of candidates to do just that.
“To me, it’s an opportunity,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If they don’t take it that way, then that’s their bad.”
Although the Wild plans to evaluate its blue line after Tuesday’s game to determine if it needs to add an extra option, it’s sticking with the six available defensemen for the time being.
That means seventh defenseman Nate Prosser will be ushered into duty after appearing in just two games so far. Prosser takes pride in being tasked with trying to help stabilize the Wild — a role he fulfilled last season after being plucked off waivers for a third stint with the team.
“That’s kind of where I’m at in my career and this organization,” Prosser said. “I knew it coming in. I knew it while I was sitting and just skating and working to get into the lineup. I’m ready, and I’m prepared.”
With Prosser filling out the third pairing next to Nick Seeler, Greg Pateryn moves up to the second unit to line up alongside Jonas Brodin.
“My game is what it is,” said Pateryn, who signed a three-year, $6.75 million contract during the offseason as a free agent. “I’m not going to go out there and try to turn myself into somebody I don’t need to be. I got myself here for a reason, and there’s obviously still areas to build all the time. But you just stick to your game and just do what I need to do.”
Even though Koivu is back in the mix after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Flames captain Mark Giordano on Dec. 6, he won’t occupy his usual spot next to winger Zach Parise — a tweak that gives others a chance to make an impact from different spots.
The line of Parise, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter is staying intact after a steady performance last week. If Coyle and Niederreiter can continue to contribute, the scoring support would be a timely lift considering the offense the team loses with Dumba idle.
On the heels of a career season that preceded a five-year, $30 million commitment from the Wild during the summer, Dumba was orchestrating a tremendous encore with 12 goals (two shy of his career high and the most in the NHL for defensemen) and 22 points.
“He still may be well on his way to having a ridiculous year,” Boudreau said. “I always feel for guys when they get hurt, especially when they’re trying to protect our team.”
Instead of going back to the minors now that Koivu is ready to play, call-up Luke Kunin is getting a look alongside Koivu and winger Jason Zucker — who rejoined the Wild for practice Monday after missing Saturday’s game due to illness.
“Definitely excited for this opportunity,” Kunin said. “I like my game the last game, and I just want to keep improving off that.”
This assignment also keeps rookie Jordan Greenway next to center Eric Staal and winger Mikael Granlund after the three played together Saturday, an effort that culminated in a goal for Greenway — exactly the type of response the Wild is hoping for from this revamped lineup.
“You never want your teammates to be hurt or anyone to be hurt,” Kunin said. “But it is part of the game. We gotta find it within the room here to pick [it] up when those guys are out.”
NHL SHORT TAKES
More change is sweeping through Philadelphia. The Flyers fired coach Dave Hakstol on Monday, this after Chuck Fletcher, above, replaced Ron Hextall as GM earlier this month. Hakstol was the fifth coach this season to be relieved of his duties, and the dismissal came after the Flyers dropped the final four games of a five-game road trip to sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points. Scott Gordon, who was coaching the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate, has taken over on an interim basis.
• After a ho-hum start, the Capitals are surging and look like they have a legit chance of repeating as Stanley Cup champions. And it’s no surprise who’s behind this charge. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored back-to-back hat tricks last week, finishing with a total of seven goals in three games. His current 14-game point streak is a career high.
• An obscure section of the NHL rulebook was referenced recently after a dump-in by St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo last Tuesday bounced off referee Tim Peel and into the net behind Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. The goal did not count because, according to rule 78.5, a goal is disallowed when it deflects directly into the net off an official — a distinction many Blues players said they didn’t know about.