COLUMBUS, Ohio – Here’s why Wild coach Bruce Boudreau is committed to tightening up his team’s defense.
In the past nine weeks, the Wild has managed to go 21-6-2 despite allowing 2.93 goals per game. The Wild has averaged nearly four goals per game in that stretch to overcome the leaky defense, but the coach worries that output isn’t sustainable as teams gear up for the tight-checking playoffs.
Heading into Thursday’s 1-0 loss to the Blue Jackets, the Wild had allowed 85 goals in a 29-game stretch after allowing only 60 goals in the season’s first 32 games. In the three previous games, the Wild allowed 14.
That’s not a recipe for long-term success, and the Wild certainly tightened up Thursday after a Wednesday afternoon extensive video session at the team hotel.
“We’re [working] on fine-tuning our game positionally,” defenseman Marco Scandella said. “We don’t have a lot of practices [the rest of the season], so we’re going to have to have to be doing a lot of video and making sure we’re really tight. That’s our identity, playing good defense, and we’re going to have to start bringing that back into our game because we’ve been allowing too many goals lately.”
Boudreau believes the Wild’s game has cracked because the condensed schedule has meant little practice time. That will only get worse. The Wild and Blue Jackets each have 16 games in March, so energy will need to be conserved. That means Columbus coach John Tortorella and Boudreau’s teaching will mostly have to come through off-ice video.
“I’m going to rely on rest more than practice,” Tortorella said. “Being on the ice is not a priority for me right now.”
One wonders if players, no longer worried they could be on the move, also will start to play better with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I think that now we know exactly who’s on our team right down to every player,” Scandella said. “We have a couple new pieces — locker-room guys, good players — [in Martin Hanzal and Ryan White], and now it’s about finding our identity again and bringing that momentum into the playoffs.”
Despite a scary-looking lower-body injury Tuesday at Winnipeg, defenseman Ryan Suter played at Columbus.
“He’s old-school, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Boudreau said. “He’s tough. He’s a tough farmer. That’s probably why he’s making $100 million.”
Wearin’ the A
With Zach Parise out for a third consecutive game because of the mumps, former Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal wore the second “A” as alternate captain for the sixth, seventh and eighth periods this week.
Why not nine? Assistant equipment manager Rick Bronwell didn’t realize he forgot to sew the “A” on Staal’s road sweater until the first period of Tuesday’s game at Winnipeg.
Bronwell did a quick stitch job during the first intermission and Staal emerged with an “A” in the second period.
“I didn’t notice, but [Chris Stewart] asked where my ‘A’ was during the game,” Staal said, laughing. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been stripped and reinstated in the same game.”
• Bovada, the online sports betting site, has the Wild tied with Chicago for the second-best odds (11-2) to win the Stanley Cup after Washington’s 5-1. The Wild is also favored to win the Western Conference (11-5) and Central Division (1-3). Goalie Devan Dubnyk is also 26-1 to win the Hart Trophy and the 1-1 favorite to win the Vezina. Suter is 20-1 to win the Norris.
• Wild defenseman Nate Prosser was scratched Thursday. Newly acquired Blue Jackets defenseman Kyle Quincey and forward Lauri Korpikoski debuted.