The Wild is exhausting every effort to get Dany Heatley going. The latest was to give the veteran winger duty on the fourth line during the past two games.
He responded in Sunday’s 4-0 victory over New Jersey with his best game of the season. Besides Heatley scoring a power-play goal — the 141st of his career, he didn’t cough up pucks, made tape-to-tape passes and won battles.
After the game, coach Mike Yeo said, “He handled it the right way. He came to the rink, he had a good attitude, he never pouted. What he did was focus on his own game. If I were to go back over his shifts, I’m confident we would say that was his best forechecking game, that was his best game as far as puck strength and making plays on entries and good decisions.
“That was kind of the message: ‘You do the right things, and eventually you’ll get rewarded.’ ”
Heatley declined to comment after the game, but he has been around long enough to know the next stop after the fourth line is the press box as a healthy scratch. He has struggled this season with his skating and puck management.
The second line, scoreless in the first 11 games of the season, has broken out since Heatley was downgraded to the third and fourth lines, so he might need to embrace the lesser role. In the past four games, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville, who made up the new second line, have combined for eight goals and 11 assists.
Pominville, one goal short of his 200th, was named the NHL’s “First Star of the Week” Monday. The right winger tied for the league lead in goals (four) and points (six), scoring in all three games.
Pominville has scored in four consecutive games, his longest goal-scoring streak since a four-gamer Nov. 12-19, 2008. He is tied for third in the NHL with 10 goals and also leads the Wild with 12 points, three game-winning goals and plus-6 rating in 15 games.
His 10 goals are third most by a Wild player in the first 15 games of a season (Marian Gaborik, 2002-03, and Brian Rolston, 2006-07, had 11).
The Wild won 39 of 54 faceoffs Sunday (72.2 percent), including 13 in a row to open the third period. Led by centers Mikko Koivu, Kyle Brodziak and Zenon Konopka, the Wild ranks second in the NHL with a .557 faceoff win percentage.
Yeo credited assistant coach Darby Hendrickson’s video work and the job the wingers do during faceoff situations, but he said, “It starts from our centermen, there’s no question. Those guys take a lot of pride in it, they understand the importance of it, the value of it. It’s a mentality we want to have. Every battle and loose puck is important, and faceoffs are those.”