SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Mike Yeo was desperate to jump-start a second line that has been dormant offensively and a liability defensively.
The Wild coach said before Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks that it’s time somebody “steps up” on the second line. He was referring to Charlie Coyle, who had three goals and eight points in 21 games, and Nino Niederreiter, who had no goals and two assists in the previous nine games. Justin Fontaine was elevated from the fourth line to be their right wing against San Jose.
The Wild’s second line stalled the moment Mikael Granlund sustained a concussion. He missed his ninth game Thursday.
After Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Anaheim — a game in which Coyle was unable to tie the score on a third-period breakaway — Coyle said he felt he was finding his game “slowly. But I need to get there now. I want to get there. Each game I think I feel a little better, but our line, we’ve got to get things done. They’re putting us in this role for a reason and they’re giving us a lot of confidence. We’ve got to contribute and come through for our team.”
Coyle burst onto the scene last year as the first-line right wing next to Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. That’s where he has played best in the NHL, but with Granlund injured, the Wild has needed Coyle to play second-line center. It was a position Coyle actually won in training camp. But in eight games since Granlund’s injury, Coyle had a goal and assist before Thursday.
Yeo loved Coyle’s game in the third period in Anaheim. Even though Coyle didn’t score on that breakaway, Yeo said, “There was one of the moments where I was like, ‘Oh, there he is.’ … He was attacking more. He was a lot more aggressive. I’d like to see him take charge.”
Looking for some meat in the lineup after getting pushed off the puck easily against Anaheim, the Wild recalled Brett Bulmer out of the blue to play against San Jose.
Without even the benefit of a morning skate because he arrived in Silicon Valley a few hours before the game, the 21-year-old Bulmer was recalled to play the Sharks for his first NHL action since a nine-game audition ended Oct. 27, 2011.
Fellow 2010 second-round pick Jason Zucker, recalled Wednesday to play in Anaheim, was scratched.
“I don’t want to say he played poorly, but he didn’t demand a spot for himself in the lineup [Thursday],” Yeo said of Zucker, who has gone 17 regular-season games without a point and was partly responsible for one goal against Wednesday. “I don’t know if we’re always giving him the best chance, bouncing him in and out of the lineup like this, but at the same time I just want to see somebody come up and just really respect this opportunity and show that [they’re] not willing to let it slip.”
Bulmer, who is 6-2 and 212 pounds, got the call because Yeo said he feels the Wild has lacked a big body that plays with an edge and is strong on the puck. Bulmer, whose development has been slowed because of injuries the past few years, leads Iowa with nine goals. He started Thursday’s game on the right side of Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak.
Granlund is slowly progressing, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said.
“He’s skating on his own,” Fletcher said. “I know he feels better and he’s doing things on his own in terms of workouts and skating. I’m not worried at all long-term. Short-term, he’s not skating with the team, so that means you’re a little bit away, but he’s progressing a little bit. You never know with these things, but he’s definitely improved from a week or so ago.”
Headed for the Hall
Former Wild defenseman Brent Burns, now a first-line right wing with San Jose, loves playing on a line with future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton. Thornton entered Thursday’s game tied for 26th with 814 career assists (second active) and 50th with 1,150 career points (third active).
“He’s got the natural energy,” Burns said. “He just makes guys laugh. I’m legit laughing on the bench half of the time because of that meatball.
“It’s still crazy to me when people say about Joe that the window is closing. He’s 34. He loves the game and the guy never takes a day off. Even when we have a full day off, he goes to the rink. No one else is thinking about hockey and he goes to the rink. If he wants to play when he’s 60, he could.”