Nine games into the season, the Wild still is trying to figure out exactly the type of team it has.
Despite almost every game going AWOL for at least one period of hockey, the Wild has so far overcome the spurts of inadequacy by being the most balanced-scoring team in the NHL and carrying a Central Division-best 6-2-1 record into Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Riding a franchise-record shutout streak of 181 minutes, 43 seconds, the Wild also has a league-high 18 goal scorers and a league-best 22 players with at least a point.
“I think we’re a skating team, we’re not going to over-physical anybody,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after Saturday’s third consecutive shutout. “We’re going to be a hard-working, in-your-face team and hopefully we’re a smart team that moves the puck quick.
“That’s where I see the identity going to be: Just pains in the [butt] to play against.”
Boudreau hopes this can continue as injuries mount.
The Wild announced Saturday that left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Marco Scandella are week-to-week because of lower-body injuries. Center Erik Haula, who might practice Monday, has missed five games in a row because of a foot injury and center Zac Dalpe suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday’s game against Dallas.
Can the Wild survive?
“We’re going to try,” Boudreau said. “I’ve always believed that when one guy goes out, another guy’s got a chance to make his game. [Tyler] Graovac and [Christoph] Bertschy were real good [Saturday], and it’s their opportunity. Let’s see if they can sustain what they did.”
Both were reassigned to Iowa after Saturday’s game to save salary cap space, but one or both could be back for Tuesday’s game.
The good news is after Tuesday, the Wild plays once in eight days (at Colorado on Saturday), so the wounded will have time to mend.
“If this happens in March, you’re really digging a hole for yourself,” Boudreau said. “But we’ve only got two games [this] week, so hopefully we can get by.”
The Wild, before Sunday’s NHL action, had a league-high 32 goals, a league-best .137 shooting percentage and a league-top penalty kill (25-for-26, 96.2 percent).
Its goals-against figure, thanks to three consecutive shutouts for the first time in franchise history, is 2.11 a game, tied for third, despite averaging 30 shots allowed per game and registering the second fewest (25.9 per game).
Ryan Suter’s 10 points is not only tied with Montreal’s Shea Weber for first in the NHL among defensemen, it’s tied for third among all players, regardless of position. Jason Zucker and Christian Folin are tied for third with plus-9s, and Eric Staal is tied for 17th with four goals.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk is tied for third with five wins, is first with three shutouts, and among goalies with at least four starts, his .952 save percentage ranks fourth and his 1.43 goals-against average ranks third. He is riding a personal-best and franchise-record individual shutout streak of 180 minutes.
As usual, Dubnyk credits the teammates in front of him and the balanced scoring the Wild has received.
“Top to bottom, that’s what’s been talked about a lot is the depth and having that ability for really anybody at any point to score that big goal or make that big play,” Dubnyk said. “That’s going to be a strength of ours that’s going to be important for us.”
Asked what he has learned about the Wild so far, Staal said, “We have a good team. We have a good group here that we feel like we can compete with anybody. … If we have weeks like this, we’re going to be in good shape at the end of the year.”