The first thought that comes to mind when Wild coach Bruce Boudreau stirs in the middle of the night is always the same.
Who’s playing with whom?
“That’s why you can’t get to sleep after you wake up the first time,” he said.
Despite the leaguewide player turnover that continues to be spurred on by the constraints of a salary cap and rising cost of contracts, chemistry remains a coveted asset that helps teams maximize the potential of their lineups.
“You’re always looking for fits,” Boudreau said. “I think good fits are more important than good players.”
What the salary-cap era has affected, though, is how many players require chemistry to fill out a line. Rather than searching for three players who click, Boudreau looks for duos that work well together and then keeps an eye out for a third complementary piece.
Time is also essential; an instant connection happens, but it’s rare. Typically, players find they develop rhythm with others through reps.
And chemistry isn’t always measured in offense. Sometimes, it’s an intangible that’s key to success but not listed in the boxscore.
“There’s a lot more to the game than just offensive goals,” center Eric Staal said. “In order to win consistently, you need to bring a lot of other things to the game. With certain lines, there are fourth lines, third lines that are effective and have a lot of relevance to the end result of the game whether or not they’re on the scoreboard. It’s still important.”
Awareness seems to underscore the best matchups — the ability to understand another player’s preferences and thought process without the need to express it on the ice.
That’s how winger Jason Zucker felt about his vibe with captain Mikko Koivu and winger Mikael Granlund last season — a line that surged for the Wild with each thriving offensively in 2016-17.
“I think that does make a huge difference,” Zucker said.
Those three haven’t lined up next to each other exclusively this season, but they were reunited Saturday against the Blues. And just like riding a bike, that familiarity is never lost even if it’s been awhile.
“When you get back out there, you kind of know those tendencies still,” Zucker said. “But at the same time, you still have to work at it.”
Nate Prosser made his season debut with the Wild on Saturday against a familiar foe — suiting up for his first game since the Wild scooped him off waivers Thursday from the Blues against St. Louis.
“It’s craziness just kind of the way this all formed and made its way to this point,” he said. “To play St. Louis my first game, it’s really — you can’t even write a book on this. It’s just really bizarre. I have old teammates just texting me just, ‘LOL.’ That’s their only text. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s kind of a dream setting.”
Prosser played only one game this season with the Blues, sitting mostly as the odd-man out on a stacked blue line.
“There are frustrations. There are stresses with that,” Prosser said. “I always hang my hat on being a positive, good teammate. I don’t want to go to the rink moping or having my teammates see that I’m down or negative. I want them to know, ‘Hey, this a good team guy, and he’ll be there for me whenever I need him.’ ”
Time to vote
Fans will continue to determine the four captains for the NHL All-Star Game, which is Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla.
Voting opened Saturday at nhl.com/vote and on the NHL app and concludes Jan. 1, with the top vote-getters in each division — regardless of position — being named All-Stars and captains of their respective divisions. Fans can select one to four players per ballot, and 10 ballots are the maximum that can be cast in a 24-hour period.
The NHL is also sticking with the same format as the past three years, as each division will face off in a three-game tournament played three-on-three.