DALLAS – The Wild hasn’t experienced much turnover with its forward group lately.
Forward Jordan Greenway is getting an opportunity to play since the team wants to get a read on his potential before the season ends, and the effectiveness of the fourth line has merited wingers Daniel Winnik and Marcus Foligno sticking with center Joel Eriksson Ek.
But with 13 healthy forwards available, someone has to be on the outs.
And so far, that has been Tyler Ennis.
“I feel bad because Tyler works really hard,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s done a great job, but A, we have to see if Greenway can play well enough to play in the playoffs and it’s a short sample size. And because the fourth line was doing what they did, I didn’t want to break them up. I wanted them to feel some continuity.
“But Tyler’s going to get back into a game very soon.”
Ennis sat for a fourth consecutive game Saturday, the longest he’s been idle this season. He’d been scratched on four previous occasions but only for a game at a time.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating being a healthy scratch, but nobody likes a teammate that pouts,” Ennis said. “Everybody knows that everybody wants to play, so it’s important to be a good teammate.”
In his first season with the Wild after getting traded from the Sabres last summer, Ennis didn’t anticipate being the extra forward, but he recognizes the rhythm the Wild has found of late. Before facing the Stars on Saturday, the Wild had pocketed at least a point in a season-high seven consecutive games.
This stretch, part of a second-half surge, has the team on the brink of a playoff berth and if the team secures a spot, it’ll be the first time Ennis has advanced to the postseason since 2011.
“There’s a good feeling in the room,” he said. “Everyone can kind of feel it. You’re jelling at that right time, and our structure it feels like has come together where everybody’s on the same page. And that’s a good feeling as a team this time of year.”
The Wild has gone five straight games without surrendering a power-play goal, with the penalty kill a spotless 15-for-15 in that span. Chemistry among the forward duos seems to be stoking that proficiency.
“It helps a lot,” Winnik said. “You get to know guys’ tendencies. You know how he’s going to kill, where he’s going to go or [where] his stick’s going to be. Just little things like that that I don’t think a lot of people realize make a world of difference.”
Winnik and Eriksson Ek have been one steady unit, while Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund have formed another partnership. Not only did these pairings play the most shorthanded minutes Thursday among forwards, but they also chipped in a goal when Granlund finished off a two-on-one break.
And that aggressiveness is key.
“When a PK isn’t successful, you get a tendency of being scared to almost go out and get scored on,” Winnik said. “You get very passive in the way you play in-zone, and that’s what was happening to us.”
While the penalty kill has been in a groove recently, the power play had been in a funk until two goals Thursday ended a 1-for-26 slide. Sustaining that productivity the rest of the way could help the Wild’s chances in a potential first-round series.
“Special teams are going to be so important when it comes to the last five games and hopefully beyond that,” Boudreau said. “A lot of teams play each other equal, but it’s the special teams that make the difference.”