The options are clear, but the choice isn’t.
The line of Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter has been outstanding during captain Mikko Koivu’s absence, and Wild coach Bruce Boudreau could keep it intact once Koivu returns — perhaps imminently — from a lower-body injury. Or he could break it up to reunite Koivu with his usual running mate Parise.
“We’ll see,” Boudreau said.
It’s a debate that’ll headline the Wild until Koivu is ready to play and one Boudreau doesn’t mind stirring because it signals improvement from Coyle and Niederreiter — especially the latter, who scored twice and assisted on another to spark a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night in front of an announced 18,714 at Xcel Energy Center.
“They’re such a big part of our team and have been for the last five years,” Boudreau said. “When you take two 20-plus potential goal scorers out of our lineup or they’re not producing, it’s a big hole. Really happy to see that they’ve both started to skate and play a lot better.”
Since the unit was formed, Niederreiter has four goals in three games, and while that production is important, it’s how he has carried himself on the ice that seems more encouraging.
He’s used his legs to get around defenders, been a pest down low — particularly in front of the net — and has helped the Wild generate much more offensive-zone time.
“Confidence is obviously a big thing,” Niederreiter said. “Staying on one side for quite some time for now, that’s definitely helped my game a lot.”
This effort from Niederreiter spurred a rally by the Wild after it fell behind the Panthers.
He delivered the equalizer with 4 minutes, 38 seconds to go in the first period on a one-timer after Florida opened the scoring at 2:20 when center Denis Malgin buried a rebound behind goalie Devan Dubnyk.
After a sluggish start to the second, momentum started to shift in the Wild’s favor following a strong penalty kill led by Dubnyk, who ended up with 30 saves to post consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 8 and 11.
At 11:54, Niederreiter — as the screen in front — deflected a shot by Ryan Suter past James Reimer; Suter finished with three assists.
Before the period ended, center Eric Staal buried a Mikael Granlund feed at 15:29. The assist was Granlund’s 300th career point.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who had two assists, was instrumental in setting up the goal by sprawling to keep the puck in at the blue line.
In the third, the Parise-Coyle-Niederreiter combo keyed two more goals.
“It’s great to find some chemistry together,” Niederreiter said.
Only 1:02 into the period, Parise scored his team-leading 15th goal when the rebound from his shot bounced behind Reimer and rolled over the goal line. Niederreiter completed his three-point night on the play with an assist.
The Wild tacked on a fifth at 3:51 when defenseman Jonas Brodin’s shot scooted by Reimer while Coyle acted as a screen.
Parise’s assist on the goal signaled five points for that line, which finished a combined plus-11. The three boast seven goals and 14 points since they were united near the end of the 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers last Friday.
“We’re just doing the little things,” Coyle said. “Nino’s been great on the wall. So has our transition and breakout. That’s huge. Good ‘D’ first, and then we just talk to each other on the bench, on the ice. We know where each other are and are good outs. It’s paying off for us.”