Usually the day after every game, Wild winger Jason Zucker watches replays of each one of his shifts.
When he studied his work leading up to the team’s five-day mandatory break, he noticed mistakes but overall thought he was playing well — an assessment that was backed up by an upswing in production.
Those contributions helped the Wild secure points in four straight games before its timeout. With the team now resuming its pursuit of a playoff spot, Zucker’s challenge is to recapture the rhythm he was enjoying just a week ago that was reminiscent of his prowess last season alongside captain Mikko Koivu and winger Mikael Granlund.
“I was happy with it,” Zucker said. “But I’m looking forward to getting back at it.”
Before the Wild’s layoff, Zucker chipped in two goals and five points in five games. He unleashed 15 shots on net and drew a pair of penalties, signs he was involved in the action and moving his feet.
And that, in coach Bruce Boudreau’s eyes, is a telltale indicator Zucker is in a groove.
“He’s got great legs, and he beats most defense to the outside and shoots the puck,” Boudreau said. “When that happens, he’s really good.”
Having some type of impact, even a negative one, is better to Zucker than being a complete passenger in a game, and he tries to gauge his role when he watches replays of games.
While it’s always encouraging to see pucks go in, that’s not the only criterion he feels he needs to be satisfied about his effort. He, along with his linemates, can flip momentum, eat up heavy minutes and try to quiet the line that opposes them.
“There’s a lot of things that we can do to help this team, and we feel we need to do that every night to be ourselves,” Zucker said.
Still, racking up goals is a chief responsibility of the Wild’s top trio and one that Zucker also places on the unit’s checklist. And while contributing at the torrid pace the three did last season when they combined for 66 goals and 174 points is not an encore Zucker believes is reasonable, he does still expect his line to deliver.
What’s encouraging for the Wild is that the line has come through. Koivu registered seven points in his last six games before the break, while Granlund totaled nine in that span.
“I think we’re getting to where we want to be and what we feel is realistic and what we feel we need to do, and the good part about that is we’re still striving to be better,” Zucker said. “We want to be where we were last year. We do. But we’re also realistic in the sense that if we have a game that is good but not that good, we’re not going to get down on ourselves and think that we’re playing terrible.
“We have to look at it realistically but also with higher standards in mind, as well.”
Boudreau said the lower-body injury that will sideline Nino Niederreiter until after the All-Star break is different from the left ankle issue the winger dealt with during his previous absence.
“It’s a separate injury that hasn’t healed properly,” Boudreau said.
Former Gophers captain and Eden Prairie native Kyle Rau made his Wild debut Saturday, almost exactly six years after his brother Chad played his first game for the Wild — also on Hockey Day Minnesota.
Chad Rau made his debut with the Wild on Jan. 21, 2012, which was also his first game in the NHL. He scored the game-winner in a 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars.
“It’s cool,” Kyle Rau said. “Obviously, he’s fired up for me. I guess it’s kind of ironic to say we both played for the Wild on Hockey Day Minnesota.”
They will become the first set of brothers to skate for the Wild.
Baby makes five
Goalie Devan Dubnyk and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed their third son during the team’s bye week.
Dawson Paul arrived Monday, weighing 9 pounds, 13 ounces.
“We had the whole week,” Dubnyk said. “Flew by, but it was nice to just take it easy and spend some time with him. Not that he wants to hang out with me, anyway, except for short periods of time.”