TORONTO – Dany Heatley is struggling. It’s plain for all to see.
Heatley has no goals, one assist and 12 shots through seven games. This is a player who said he would be disappointed not scoring goals this season, a player who came to training camp visibly leaner and looking, at least early, a step faster.
The Wild veteran has been cemented on a second line that hasn’t scored a single even-strength goal this season.
Coach Mike Yeo was asked after Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs if he can afford to continue to let Heatley play through this.
“After every game, we look at our lines and we say what do we need to do going forward, and every game we’ll evaluate it,” Yeo said. “I’m not going to say he’s at his best right now. I’m not, for sure.
“But I also know that he’s capable of more, and I also know that we need him right now. It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just take him out,’ but with who? Who do you put in instead? The easy thing to do is for us to just give up, but that’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep trying to push him and keep trying to get him better and keep trying to work with him because we know what he’s capable of.”
General Manager Chuck Fletcher was asked Tuesday morning if he was concerned about Heatley. He answered broadly rather than specifically about Heatley.
“I think it’s too early for anything, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to give it a lot more than six games on any player,” Fletcher said. “There’s a tendency in every sport to overreact on any little positive or negative early in the season.
“It’s human nature, I get it. But there’s 76 games to go.”
Mikko Koivu also has no goals, but after a game in which the Wild outshot Toronto 37-14, Yeo said, “Mikko was an unbelievable warrior. Every time he was on the ice, there was something great that happened. He’s very similar to our team that the result doesn’t add up to what he deserved.”
Prosser, Scandella play
Defenseman Nate Prosser made his season debut because Keith Ballard took a puck to the face Monday in Buffalo. Also, rookie defenseman Matt Dumba, who struggled against the Sabres, was scratched for Marco Scandella, who sat the previous three games.
“It didn’t matter if we won 10-0 [Monday, Scandella] was going to play this game,” Yeo said.
Yeo said it would be valuable for Dumba to spend Tuesday morning working with assistant coach Rick Wilson and watch Tuesday’s game from above.
Harding’s rest cut short
Goalie Josh Harding, who has won all three of his starts, relieved Darcy Kuemper in the second period Tuesday and didn’t give up a goal on six shots.
Harding has given up four goals in five games. He ranks first among NHL goalies with more than one start with a 0.94 goals-against average and fifth with a .952 save percentage.
Niklas Backstrom is getting closer to returning from a knee injury, but it sounds as if Yeo will keep riding Harding if he remains hot.
“I have liked not only how he’s looked in the net — he’s looked quick, he’s looked big — but I’ve liked the way he’s been playing the puck, too,” Yeo said. “He has helped our ‘D’ go back in transition and get ourselves out of trouble.”
Iowa’s Jason Zucker was suspended by the American Hockey League two games for his check to the head of Oklahoma City’s Linus Omark on Sunday. Technically, that doesn’t preclude the Wild from calling Zucker up if he’s needed.