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Wild 'getting closer' to its identity after comeback win over Coyotes

With its next game not until Friday, the Wild has plenty of time to gather enough available players to fill out its lineup.

But the group that it assembles might want to remember how the Wild persevered while shorthanded Tuesday in a crucial 2-1 win over the Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center.



“We were smart with the puck,” center Eric Staal said. “I thought a lot better decision-making. Spent more time in the offensive zone. It took a while to get it to work to result in offense, but it was enough to get the job done.”

The Wild didn’t have much room for error, and that didn’t seem to bother the team.

It was without captain Mikko Koivu, who was with his wife Helena after she went into labor. And in the first period, the forward group shrunk to 10 after veteran Matt Hendricks left the ice injured.

“The guys did a good job battling,” center Eric Fehr said. “The lines were switching up a little bit, and it's a little bit tricky on the bench when you don't know exactly what’s happening with the lines. But the guys stayed with it and we got the job done."

Although it fell behind, the Wild kept challenging former teammate Darcy Kuemper – with Kuemper making a handful of clutch saves after the Wild tied it at 1.

Not until the third period did the Wild finally solve Kuemper again, and its unrelenting approach until it secured that goal by Staal fit perfectly with the workmanlike theme of the night.

“I think we’re getting closer to our style and closer to our game,” Staal said. “I think our execution can still get better, but it’s getting better. We’re spending more time in the offensive zone. I think we’re making the plays that we need to.”

After a day off Wednesday, the Wild will practice Thursday ahead of another tough back-to-back.

It’ll play in Dallas Friday before returning home to face the Lightning Saturday.

The Wild could have Koivu back by then, although Boudreau said after the game he hadn’t heard if Koivu’s wife had given birth yet.

And it’s possible the Wild is left shorthanded without much notice again in the future.

“I think there’s eight pregnant wives on our team,” Boudreau said. “So I’m sure this episode will happen again.”

When the Wild reconvenes, don’t be surprised if it adds someone from Iowa of the American Hockey League if Hendricks isn’t back to full strength.

Even if he is, the team could still opt to bring in help with a tough schedule this weekend.

“Hopefully it's just a tweak,” Fehr said of Hendricks. “I don't know if it was the knee or the ankle. I'm not even sure about that. Hopefully he's all right. He's a big key for us in the penalty kill and in the dressing room, and he brings it every night. That'd be a big loss for us."

And although it seems likely Mikael Granlund will shift back to the wing when the Wild restores its number, maybe he sticks at center. 

He certainly didn’t look out of place at the spot against the Coyotes.

“I can play both,” Granlund said. “It’s a little bit different, but I like them both.”

Boudreau's message to Wild: 'We gotta get our act in gear'

In the aftermath of the 4-2 loss to the Predators Monday, the Wild embraced the positives.

It was competitive, had a chance in the third period to even the score and received strong goaltending yet again.

But when the team reassembled Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center ahead of its second challenge is as many nights against the Coyotes, the focus seemed to shift to translating that progress into points.

“The message is pretty simple,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We gotta get our act in gear, and you can’t be satisfied with close losses against good teams. You have to win. This is a winning league, so we’ll find a true test of character right now.”

Labeling a game in October as a “must-win” might be a stretch, but there did appear to be a sense of urgency around the team Tuesday morning.

After playing Arizona, the team will have two days before it’s next contest – Friday in Dallas before it returns home to host the Lightning Saturday.

“I call it a very important game for us,” Boudreau said. “If you look at our schedule, we have to get to .500 quick and then you have to start moving above .500 fi you want to stay in this race. I’ve bene through it where you have bad starts. It makes it an awful tough grind for the rest of the year. You want to be able to play with a little comfort zone here in case you do have a bad stretch, but we don’t want that to happen right now.”

The Wild will rely on the same lineup except it’ll sub No.1 Devan Dubnyk in for backup Alex Stalock. Dubnyk is coming off a 52-save performance Saturday against the Hurricanes.

“I think last night was a good step,” Dubnyk said. “We have to understand that tonight’s important, and we need to be ready to go.”

Projected lineup:

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Jordan Greenway

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund

Nino NiederreiterEric Fehr-Charlie Coyle

Marcus Foligno-Matt Hendricks-J.T. Brown

Ryan Suter- Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon

Nick Seeler-Greg Pateryn

Devan Dubnyk

Key numbers:

6: Assists in winger Zach Parise’s last three games.

497: Career points for defenseman Ryan Suter.

12-2-3: The Wild’s record in its last 17 games against the Coyotes.

5-7-3: How the Wild fared in the second game of a back-to-back last season.

2: Wins for Arizona last season vs. Minnesota.

About the Coyotes:

Arizona is off to a rough start, getting shut out three times and scoring just twice amid a 1-3 debut. The Coyotes’ lone win was almost a week ago, when he edged the Ducks 3-2 in a shootout. Since then, the team has played just once – a 3-0 loss to the Sabres Saturday. Arizona has had plenty of shots, tallying 30 or more in its first four games for the first time in franchise history since 1985. The Coyotes’ third period shot differential is plus-38 – which is the second-highest among any team in any period this season.

Final, 10/16 1 2 3 F
Arizona 1-4 1 0 0 1
Minnesota 2-2-2 0 1 1 2

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