CALGARY, ALBERTA – Perhaps it’s mere coincidence. Or, perhaps Bruce Boudreau’s tough love with Tyler Graovac is getting through.
Last Tuesday when the Wild coach was asked if he would be comfortable with the fourth-line center spot heading into the playoffs if Graovac’s play didn’t vastly improve, Boudreau paused five seconds, then deadpanned, “Let’s hope it improves.”
In the two subsequent games, Graovac, who had no points in 17 consecutive games and one in the previous 30, scored three goals.
“You see it in every sport. In baseball you go 18 at-bats without a hit, you usually go 3-for-4 when you do get a hit,” Boudreau said before the Wild faced the Flames on Wednesday night. “Grao’s the same way.”
But Boudreau also talked with Graovac, who seemed confused that as a fourth-line center he had the freedom to attempt offense.
“I told him, ‘You can be really good defensively because that is what you’re supposed to be on the fourth hole, but I’m not saying don’t score,’ ” Boudreau said. “This is the NHL. Every player in this league has got special skills. You get an opportunity to go, you go. But when the opportunity isn’t there, you think defense.”
Graovac, 23, has been trying to adjust to a fourth-line role. Boudreau sent him a message with a Jan. 21 scratch against Anaheim.
“It was honestly a little disappointing and frustrating for me,” Graovac said.
“I thought I was playing a certain way and especially when we’re winning. For me, as a younger guy, you kind of overthink things and I’ve tried to adapt. I just got back to playing my way.”
Boudreau hopes it continues.
“Right now our fourth line [Chris Stewart-Graovac-Jordan Schroeder] has 20 goals as a unit,” Boudreau said. “That’s quite good. It gives you balance. During the course of the season, it’s hard to check four lines.”
Graovac, incidentally, said he initially passed to Mikael Granlund before scoring his second goal in Edmonton because “guys had kind of been bugging me about getting an apple.” Graovac entered Wednesday’s game with six goals and no assists in 40 games.
If anybody knows coaches are hired to be fired, it’s Boudreau. The former Ducks and Capitals coach was terminated by Anaheim last April despite four consecutive division titles and a conference final berth in 2015.
Wednesday, the St. Louis Blues, on the verge of falling out of top eight in the Western Conference, replaced Ken Hitchcock with former Wild coach Mike Yeo despite no team having more points than the Blues (537) since Hitchcock became coach.
“I don’t like anybody to get fired or let go, but that’s the business we’re in. It’s happened to all of us,” said Boudreau, now the NHL’s oldest coach at 62. “He’s one of the great coaches of all time. … But we know we’re all getting fired at some point.”
• Zach Parise cashed in his first game-winning goal of the season in Edmonton. It came with his blade wrapped in white tape, not his customary black.
“The black wasn’t working, so I figured I’d try something different,” Parise said of his first goal in 11 games.
• The Wild traded minor league forward Marc Hagel to the Ottawa Senators for future considerations. Hagel, whose 192 games with Iowa of the AHL ranks first in franchise history, asked to be traded so he could play every day, assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. Hagel was assigned to Binghamton, where he’ll play for former coach Kurt Kleinendorst. The trade decreases the Wild’s number of contracts to 47 — three fewer than the maximum.
• With the Wild playing for a second consecutive night, Boudreau wanted fresh legs against Calgary. So, defenseman Christian Folin, scratched the previous four games, dressed for Nate Prosser.