As the Wild has cut back on the amount of pucks that have burrowed into its net recently, another number has been on the rise.
Points from defensemen.
And while the former is vital to this team playing up to its potential, the latter is also key.
“You can’t win without it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
In the pair of wins since two deflating losses to the Blues and Jets, at least one defenseman has had a hand in five of the team’s six goals — combining for six points. Against St. Louis on Saturday, defensemen scored both goals in a 2-1 overtime win — a vintage Wild performance that combined resilient defense with timely offense.
“When everybody is comfortable together on where everybody is and everybody is backing each other up, everybody can make those confident plays reading off each other,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “When we’re rolling, I think we’re one of the best five-man units as far as consistently going out there and everybody working together. It’s nice to start to get back to that.”
The newly formed top pairing of Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba has been especially involved; Dumba assisted on Suter’s goal Saturday before he scored the clincher in overtime. Dumba also set up the game-winner Thursday in a 4-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
No doubt this is a small sample size, but these two games have been a blueprint for how the Wild can find success. Tighter defending was a catalyst, but so were offensive contributions from the back end.
“We’re just trying to join more,” Dumba said. “I think our forwards are more aware that we are coming and trying to shoot as many pucks as we can. They’re doing a great job of getting it to us. It’s been nice it’s been able to work out these last couple games.”
Defenseman Ryan Murphy hasn’t left the lineup since his call-up from the minors a week ago, earning regular minutes most recently on the second pairing next to Jonas Brodin.
But physically joining the Wild in Winnipeg last Monday wasn’t as seamless of a transition.
Murphy was on the road with the Iowa Wild in Chicago when he got word his services were requested in the NHL. But instead of flying out of Chicago on Nov. 26 after Iowa played the Wolves, Murphy had to ride the bus back to Iowa with the rest of the team because he forgot his passport.
“My heart dropped,” Murphy said.
After arriving in Iowa around 1 a.m., Murphy packed before getting to bed an hour later. He was up early for a 7 a.m. flight to Minnesota before catching a 9 a.m. flight to Winnipeg.
“It was actually quite similar to my real debut way back in the day against Winnipeg,” Murphy said. “I traveled the day of, and I played. So it was little bit of déjà vu. So it was not the result we wanted [7-2 loss to the Jets], but it was exciting for me.”
Saturday wasn’t just defenseman Nate Prosser’s season debut with the Wild. it was also only his second game of the season; he was frequently scratched as a member of the Blues before the Wild claimed him off waivers.
But it didn’t take long for the Wild to put Prosser in critical situations — particularly on the penalty kill, on which he spent 4 minutes, 40 seconds of his 17:08 ice time.
“That’s kind of my thing is being a good PK-er, competing hard, having a good stick in shooting lanes, blocking shots,” said Prosser. “If they want me to penalty kill, I’ll penalty kill. It’s whatever situation they want to put me in I’m ready for it.”