Guys at the bottom keeping Wild at the top

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2011 - 7:44 AM

Third- and fourth-line players such as Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson are part of a full-roster effort that has put the team atop the NHL standings.

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Wild left wing Darroll Powe put a shot on Ducks goalie Dan Ellis last month.

Photo: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

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GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Dany Heatley has been around for a few years.

As if adding Devin Setoguchi and Cal Clutterbuck to the Wild's long list of injuries in Los Angeles wasn't bad enough, the Wild then lost Kyle Brodziak for the final 35 minutes of Thursday's game because of a game misconduct for boarding.

For many teams, that would have been too much. For many teams, that would have prompted players to pack up and look ahead to the next game -- in the Wild's case, Saturday night at Phoenix.

"But that's not this team," Heatley said after Thursday's 4-2 victory at Los Angeles. "I don't know if I've seen a team where guys can just go from role to role. It's fun to see, it's fun to watch. Guys are really committed to the way we've got to play.

"I can't say enough how fun it is to play this way and win this way."

The Wild, which has won six in a row and is 3-0 so far in its its five-game road trip, has used 32 players this season-- nine more than the maximum that can be on a roster. That's tied for the most with Winnipeg.

Typically, one would think a team that has used that many players 29 games into a season would be buried near 30th in the standings, not standing at the very top.

"It's definitely a different team in that regard," Heatley said. "I've never been on a team that's dressed, like, 35 guys at this point of the year. Usually a team this high [in the standings] has dressed about the same 20 guys every night.

"But this team? Guys jump in and out all the time, young guys come in and out, and it's great to see guys do this well.

"It's very uncommon. We keep calling guys up from Houston, and they step up and do the job. We lose guys like Seto and Clutter, and guys from the third and fourth line move up and do the job."

Added heart-and-soul checker Darroll Powe: "It's like we don't miss a beat whatever happens to us."

The latest example came Thursday when Brodziak was given the boot.

Powe, who two games prior played on the fourth line in Anaheim, scored a goal and assist for his fourth career two-point game. He was a career-best plus-3. Nick Johnson had two assists for his first career two-point game.

"You can see them elevate their games," coach Mike Yeo said. "It's like they look forward to those challenges. To me, that's what character is. There's a challenge in front of you and you rise to that occasion and you meet it head on."

Johnson has gotten rave reviews since the Wild stole him off waivers from Pittsburgh before the season. He's been a third-line mainstay. He's big, he's fast. He's strong on the puck, a menace along the wall.

Powe has been more unsung. Dig deeper, though, and the former popular Philadelphia Flyer is second on the Wild with 51 hits, first among forwards with 30 blocked shots and leads all forwards in shorthanded ice time (2:55 a game).

He signed with the Wild expecting to be a third-line winger, but because of Johnson's addition, Powe started the season on the fourth line. He didn't pout; he just played.

"He is a winner," Yeo said. "He is a huge part of our team. You don't think of a fourth-line guy being a huge part of a team, but this guy is. I'm a big believer in roles and guys have jobs, and to me, it sounds crazy, but a fourth-line player is as important as a first-line player. And he has a good understanding of that.

"He's always bouncing around all over the place. He never complains and always shows up at the rink ready to be a professional and play his best."

It's this type of character and depth on the bottom two lines and blue line that has allowed the Wild to overcome so many injuries and adversity, such as dubious game misconducts.

"Our guys don't allow that to be an excuse," Yeo said. "These guys will not accept excuses ... and will not look for them."

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