As the Wild’s injury list began to shrink, coach Bruce Boudreau’s lineup possibilities grew.
And on the brink of having a complete roster at his disposal, it looks like Boudreau could have plenty to ponder after a solid 5-1 win over the Panthers Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center that appeared to flatter most.
“These guys are all vying now for spots,” Boudreau said. “[Matt Cullen] picks it up. [Tyler] Ennis picks it up. A lot of guys played well. That’s what you want to see. You want to see that inner competition all the time.”
With Zach Parise back in the mix after making his season debut in the victory, winger Nino Niederreiter (lower-body injury) is the only player currently sidelined. But Boudreau said he believes Niederreiter is ready to return.
“He practiced really hard today,” Boudreau said. “His skating was really good. He’ll practice with the team tomorrow. We’ll make a decision Thursday.”
If Niederreiter is inserted into the lineup Thursday against the Sabres, someone will have to sit – a tough decision, especially on the heels of a win that included contributions from multiple lines.
The fourth unit racked up four points, with Cullen scoring twice. Center Eric Staal’s line continues to be a force, regardless of who fills out the wing spots; Staal also had a pair of goals, while linemate Ennis assisted on both.
And center Charlie Coyle busted out of a scoring slump with his first goal in 13 games.
But Boudreau’s potential dilemma is indicative of a positive development, not a negative one, and that’s a team getting back to full strength.
“You don’t like to make (these decisions) because you’re thinking about them for 24 hours,” he said. “But it’s better that you have to make them than if you don’t have to make them.”
Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s win over the Panthers.
- Parise’s transition back into the lineup looked smooth.
He skated 13 minutes, 35 seconds and finished with three shots on goal.
“Yeah, I felt really good from the start,” Parise said. “There’s still some plays that you’d like to have back off entries, but that’ll come. Kind of re-learning different spots on the ice where you get pressured, but that’ll come. Conditioning-wise, everything else actually felt really good.”
His first shift actually came on the power play, an ideal setup in his mind because it allowed him to get a feel for the puck.
“It couldn’t have been a better start just to get in there and handle it on the half-wall and make some plays,” he said. “It felt good to start like that.”
- The Wild had a model second period, with Boudreau calling it the best second the team’s had, as it outshot the Panthers 19-2.
Nineteen shots in a period is the most this season for the Wild in any frame.
“Yeah, that was crazy,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We weren’t doing anything crazy. We weren’t making high-risk plays. A lot of the stuff was just starting out of great defensive coverage in our end. We were in the right spots.”
- After a recent rash of penalties, the Wild was much more disciplined against the Panthers by committing just two.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the team had a better offensive push and was able to withstand late pressure from Florida.
“If you take a lot of penalties early, you don’t have the strength to come back in the third or you’re giving up leads,” Boudreau said. “So hopefully it’s a lesson that we’ve talked about, and we can keep going with.”