LOS ANGELES – Their reputation for igniting offense only seems to be getting more prominent, as they continue to rack up goals and points at a steady pace.
But the productivity from the Wild defensemen isn’t only indicative of the pucks they are funneling toward the net.
The outburst is also reflective of the havoc forwards are creating as screens, net-front pressure that’s helping stoke the offense from the defense.
“It’s our job just to get [the puck] past the first guy, and they got to work after that,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said.
After a two-goal, three-point effort Tuesday night in a 4-3 loss at San Jose, the Wild’s blue line boasted 34 points and the unit’s 14 goals ranked second in the NHL — this after the defensemen amassed a franchise-record 200 points last season, the second-highest total in the league.
Output like that doesn’t happen without defenders winding up, but the effectiveness of those shots can be enhanced by the traffic between them and the crease — obstruction supplied by the forwards.
“Bigger guys going to the net and just bringing another defender with them, it makes it a lot harder for [goalies] to see,” Spurgeon said.
While getting a piece of point shots for a redirection is on the mind of forwards, their priority is clogging the goaltender’s line of vision. The price of admission to that spot can be steep, as players jostle with the opponent’s defense for space, but players keep paying it to try to reward defensemen for hurling pucks on net.
“It’s hard enough to be able to get pucks through and make those plays,” center Eric Staal said. “But then you also have to have guys that are willing to get to the net and be a distraction — whether it be a screen or a tip or a rebound. So it goes both ways, but we’re definitely fortunate to have the ‘D’ that we do that can make those plays and execute getting pucks through. It’s pretty obvious with the amount of offense they generate, whether it be the last couple years or this year especially, they’re a big part of our team.”
Sick in San Jose
Staal has skated in more than 1,100 games over the past 15 years in the NHL, but Tuesday he experienced a first in his career.
A stomach bug knocked him out of the lineup.
“It was just bad timing,” said Staal, who was back on the ice Thursday against the Kings. “It is what it is. I’m over it now. Hopefully I don’t have to experience that because I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
The virus snuck up on Staal before Tuesday’s game, and he started to feel worse after the team’s pregame meal.
“I had tried to gut it out, and I came to the rink and if you ask any of the guys around that were witnessing what took place when I got to the rink, it wasn’t pretty,” he said. “I left right then. It was disappointing. I hate missing games. I hate not being out there.”
After spending most of Wednesday resting and rehydrating, Staal arrived in Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m.
His absence ended a streak of 335 consecutive games played, a run Staal enjoys assembling.
“I take pride in that,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll start another one.”
Matt Hendricks didn’t play Thursday, as he continues to deal with bumps and bruises.
The forward was ushered into the lineup Tuesday with Staal out, his first appearance since he suffered a lower-body injury Oct.16 against the Coyotes.
“He was hurting last game, and he gutted it out and played a great game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We will let him stay off the ice and get treatment.”
The team did recall forward Matt Read from the American Hockey League on Thursday, adding insurance in case Hendricks and Staal were unable to face the Kings; whether Read draws in Friday when the Wild completes a back-to-back against the Ducks will depend on individual performances Thursday, Boudreau said.
Moment of silence
Staples Center held a moment of silence for the victims of Wednesday night’s shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which left 12 people dead.
Kings and Wild players held up signs saying “Enough,” and both teams wore an “Enough” sticker on the back of their helmets as well.