DALLAS – Let’s see: The Wild is without two of its top scorers in Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek. The Wild has lost six consecutive games, with six total goals in that span.
And now it must figure out a way to muster up some belief and confidence that it can actually rebound in this best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the powerhouse Dallas Stars.
The cherry on top of all this doubt would be a little goalie drama.
So naturally, the Wild showed up to practice at American Airlines Center on Friday only to find former longtime Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs goalie Kenny Carroll manning Devan Dubnyk’s net.
Sixteen years ago, Carroll, who hails from Oil City, Ontario, was in the Wild’s inaugural training camp on a tryout. These days, he runs one of the Stars’ ice rinks in Richardson, Texas, and got to live a dream by tending goal during an actual NHL postseason practice with his wife, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter watching.
“Pretty cool,” Carroll said.
Wild interim coach John Torchetti explained Dubnyk’s absence as “maintenance,” which wouldn’t be a big deal if Parise’s absence from practice a couple Fridays ago wasn’t first described as “maintenance,” too.
Parise hasn’t been around the team since.
Erik Haula’s recent disappearance from practice was also described as “maintenance.”
Haula missed Game 1 of the playoffs.
So, there’s understandable skepticism heading into Game 2 Saturday, especially since Dubnyk was seen coming out of the medical room after Thursday’s 4-0 loss and took a Jason Spezza slapshot off the mask in the first period.
Torchetti insisted Dubnyk’s absence had nothing to do with that.
Haula declared himself ready to play Game 2, and he took his normal spot between wingers Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville, who has no goals in his past 12 games.
From there, Torchetti shook up the other lines. Mikael Granlund moved from center to left wing on a new line with Mikko Koivu and David Jones. Charlie Coyle, who has no goals in the past 19 games, moved from right wing to center on a new line with struggling Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine.
Jarret Stoll centered Ryan Carter and Chris Porter, the Wild’s most physical player Thursday with six hits.
Torchetti did a lot of film work before Friday’s practice. He specifically highlighted 18 neutral-zone turnovers he found from Thursday’s game.
“I think they understood the message. We beat ourselves,” Torchetti said.
The problem is that Torchetti has been harping on center-ice turnovers for weeks and nothing has changed. The Wild still seems to refuse to get pucks deep consistently, perhaps because the harder work is then retrieving that puck.
“They definitely had the puck much more than us,” Coyle said. “We were just giving it to them. We have to play in their end and support each other and just have that sense of urgency to get in there and just battle. That’s it. We’ve got to outbattle that team.
“We have to get pucks in there and just work them down low. They don’t like to play down there. No one likes to play in their own zone.”
Dubnyk clearly wasn’t fond of the play in front of him Thursday. After the game, Dubnyk talked about the confidence level inside the locker room.
“The most important thing is we’ve got to understand that we can play with these guys, we can beat these guys,” he said. “There’s no reason to think otherwise. But if there’s anybody in here that thinks we can’t beat them, they shouldn’t. We’ve shown it and we’ve got the guys in here.”
But without Parise and Vanek, the Wild desperately needs more from several players. Coyle knows he’s one of them. He had no shots Thursday and is averaging 1.26 shots per game the past 19.
“I’ve got to be a big body, take pucks to the net, create some traffic, some havoc,” Coyle said. “I need to generate some more here.”
Coyle did like the way the Wild moved on from Thursday though.
“We had a good practice,” he said. “We have to forget about [Thursday]. It doesn’t mean anything now unless we let it sit in our heads. Everyone’s pretty positive, it was an upbeat practice, everyone’s feeling good. We get that game [Saturday], we’re in good shape heading home.”
Added Haula, “We didn’t play like we wanted to play and that’s going to change.”