DENVER – In grinding through the first half of the season amid steady subtraction because of injury, the Wild’s depth took a hit.
So did its ability to roll out a balanced attack.
Both have begun to resurface now that the team has everyone available to compete, but a healthy lineup isn’t the only reason why.
Contributions from the fourth line have also been a key to helping the team find some much-needed cohesiveness.
“As a fourth line, you can’t just be satisfied keeping the other team off the scoresheet and be like, ‘Hey, we had a good game. We didn’t spend much time in our ‘D’ zone,’ ” winger Daniel Winnik said. “We gotta try and create scoring chances.”
The Winnik-Matt Cullen-Marcus Foligno trio entered Saturday’s game against the Avalanche having chipped in three goals over the previous two victories while combining for six points.
And this increased output hasn’t come at the expense of the unit’s play in its own end. All three players were not on the ice at the same time for a goal against in either game. Although the offensive help is necessary for the Wild to maximize its potential, not being a liability is imperative in remaining competitive.
“They’ve played pretty well, and you need the fourth line to be a positive effect on your team to be successful,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They have been, and that’s why we’ve won four of the last five.”
Making a case
Before the Wild got completely healthy, Boudreau talked with winger Tyler Ennis about the impending competition for ice time.
“I know you don’t like playing seven or eight minutes a game,” he told Ennis. “So it’s going to be up to you to stay in the top nine because I think that’s where you’re the most valuable.”
That message certainly appears to have resonated with Ennis, as he’s remained higher up in the lineup since the Wild has reached full strength — a promotion he’s earned recently after fulfilling a depth role earlier in the season.
“I think confidence is there,” Ennis said. “Opportunity is there. Just gotta keep going.”
Ennis had one of his most productive games of the season Tuesday when he set up a pair of goals for Eric Staal in the 5-1 win over the Panthers. Overall, he has three assists in his previous five games, a span in which he’s put 17 pucks on net.
The jump in shot volume hasn’t translated to goals, but it is indicative of a grittier style of play that tends to eventually produce results.
“He’s going to the dirtier areas, which is what I want him to continue to do,” Boudreau said. “He’s not playing as perimeter a game. I think he’s finally learning what I expect of him, and I think he was very tentative at the beginning, maybe because of his past injuries.
“But I think he’s feeling strong enough now that he’s doing a lot what we want.”
A groin injury that required surgery caused Ennis to miss a chunk of last season; in 2015-16, concussion problems sidelined him. He’s healthy, now, though and is feeling the best he has with the Wild after an offseason trade from the Sabres.
After completing the first half of the season with 47 points, the Wild is on pace for 94 — which Boudreau feels isn’t enough for a playoff berth.
“I think it’s going to take 97,” he said. “Just looking at the Western Conference, there’s not too many teams falling by the wayside. I think it’s going to be a higher number than it’s been in the past.”
Last season, the Flames and Predators grabbed the two wild-card spots in the West with 94 points each.