Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was relieved to see his team get back to playing sound defense in its past two games. As the Wild prepared for Tuesday's game against St. Louis, he said he has tried to emphasize that tight defensive play will benefit its offense as well.
After a five-day break in late February, the Wild allowed nine goals in its next two games--victories over Los Angeles and Winnipeg--continuing a trend that started with a 5-3 loss to Chicago. It has given up only two in the past two games, a 3-1 victory over San Jose and a 1-0 loss at Columbus. Boudreau knew the defense did not need major repairs, and a team meeting and video session in Columbus got the Wild refocused quickly.
"It's just commitment to it,'' Boudreau said. "Sometimes when you start scoring a lot of goals, you cheat offensively. We have to realize if we play the right way defensively, we're getting just as many chances offensively.
"We had three breakaways (against San Jose), and I thought we could have scored five or six if their goalie wasn’t as sharp as he was. I think that bodes well for when you're trying to convince them that playing good defense will lead to good offense.''
Goalie Devan Dubnyk echoed Boudreau, saying the Wild still is capable of scoring five or six goals a game while locking down on defense.
"I think we're a lot tighter in our end,'' he said. "We've shown that’s what we're capable of. It doesn’t mean we're only going to give up 20 shots every game, and it doesn’t mean there's not going to be chances. But it's what kind of chances there are, and how much control there is when those chances come.
"I think if you look at the first half of the year, we were very, very good in that department. I don't think we were ever bad in that department. We just got a little bit away from how good we had been. But we know what we're capable of, and we showed it the last two games.''
The Wild will need to play sound defense against the Blues, who broke a five-game losing streak Sunday. St. Louis has a one-point edge on Los Angeles for the second wild-card playoff berth in the Western Conference, raising the stakes in an already highly charged rivalry.
"It's always going to be an emotional game and a difficult game (against the Blues),'' Dubnyk said. "They’ve had their stretches this year where they’ve struggled, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that that's a really good hockey team over there. It's going to be tough tonight. And we always get excited for these games against (the Blues).''
Dubnyk will be in goal tonight.
With defenseman Christian Folin out for at least three weeks because of an arm injury, Boudreau expects the Wild to recall a defenseman for the five-game, eight-day road trip that begins Thursday at Tampa Bay. Gustav Olofsson is likely to get the call.
Folin's absence leaves the Wild with six defenseman for tonight's game, with Nate Prosser sliding into Folin's spot.
"(Folin) is a big man,'' Boudreau said. "When he’s playing at the top of his game, he's physical, and he's solid.
"We've played without him before. (Prosser) will come in, and we expect him to do a real good job. When one guy leaves, another guy's got to replace him and do just as well. That’s what our motto is the whole year.''