NASHVILLE – Pierre-Marc Bouchard has missed a lot of hockey the past four years — 160 games, to be exact — but he is not accustomed to being a healthy scratch.
Saturday night against the Nashville Predators, the veteran playmaker found himself removed from the lineup by coach Mike Yeo for the second time this season.
“I don’t have too much to say, to be honest,” said Bouchard, a minus-3 Tuesday against Chicago. “I feel comfortable out there. Timing is good. Confidence was starting to come back.”
Bouchard, 28, the third-leading scorer in Wild history, has no goals since Jan. 29 (14 consecutive games) and three assists this season. He has struggled after missing the second half of last season because of his latest concussion.
Yeo called it a “tough circumstance” because “it’s not like he had the luxury of having a training camp or exhibition games. The last several years, he just hasn’t played a lot of hockey.”
But with only 25 games left this season, Yeo said he can’t afford to let Bouchard play his way back into top form.
“If we were at the 20-game mark of a regular [82-game] season, it would probably be a different story,” Yeo said.
Maybe it’s understandable because of Bouchard’s history of head injuries, but it appears at times as if he avoids putting himself in harm’s way. He disagreed with that assertion when asked Saturday, saying, “I feel very comfortable. I feel good out there, I feel good along the boards, I feel good in front of the net.”
Yeo wouldn’t say Bouchard is avoiding high-traffic areas, but “he’s certainly not getting there and arriving with the authority and the confidence [as] when he’s on top of his game.”
Bouchard, in the last year of his contract and potentially on the trading block as the April 3 deadline approaches, said this is “not a fun situation” and has spoken with Yeo.
“He definitely feels like his game is coming along and there’s been signs of it,” Yeo said. “It’s a matter of getting it there consistently. It’s fair to say that it’s not there.”
Mikael Granlund, also a minus-3 against the Blackhawks, was scratched for the fourth time this season. Zenon Konopka returned, while defenseman Nate Prosser was scratched for the 13th time.
Motivation kicks in
Matt Hackett’s had an up and down year with AHL Houston. The goalie was in the middle of the “down” part when Darcy Kuemper got recalled Feb. 12 to replace Josh Harding.
Hackett, recalled Friday for the injured Kuemper, said that was a “wakeup call.” Since, he is 5-3 with the Aeros with a 1.85 goals against average and .938 save percentage.
“I feel like my game’s gotten better since Kuemps got called up,” Hackett said. “It’s been a tough year for me, but this past little stretch has been good. Being here last year, playing 12 games, then seeing Kuemps called up showed me I have to play better, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
“There are a lot of prospects in the organization, and they’re all right there to take your spot. You’ve got to be ready every night and every time you get in there prove to the coaches that you’re the guy to go to. You can’t take nights off.”