The last line on the Wild’s depth chart has been one of its strongest of late, an emergence that continued Friday, when the unit scored twice in the team’s most dynamic offensive performance to date — a 7-2 takedown of the Senators at Xcel Energy Center that lifted the team to 11-11-4.
But the game could be the last time wingers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman and center Victor Rask work together for the immediate future.
That’s because winger Marcus Foligno is nearing a return from a lower-body injury, an addition to the lineup that subtracts someone else from the mix.
“It’s tough decisions,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But they’re good decisions to have as far as depth as an organization.”
Boudreau believes Foligno, who’s been sidelined since getting hurt Nov. 7, will be eligible for Sunday’s home game against the Stars, but he said the team still must decide whether to play him.
Foligno’s inclusion at some point, however, is inevitable, because of the role he carries.
“He’s a key part of our team,” Hartman said. “He kills penalties, blocks shots [and] he’s physical. It’s something we’ve been missing a little bit. He’s a big presence in our team. I think we’re all looking forward to having him back.”
And it seems most likely someone on the fourth line will have to take a seat; the top six appears set, and the third line featuring wingers Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin with center Joel Eriksson Ek has been a force amid the Wild’s recent resurgence.
The fourth combo has also played a part in the progress, with goals from Donato and Hartman on Friday the third time in the past four games the trio has contributed.
Breaking up the line could test that rhythm, but still providing a boost will be the challenge for the unit regardless of how it looks.
“Just knowing that we’re doing so well together and we’re starting to find our mesh, it’s hard to figure out what will happen,” Donato said. “I think we’re starting to really come together as a line, really starting to get some chemistry, and that’s not easy to come by especially for that line.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon commemorated his 30th birthday Friday by chipping in a goal and two assists, but a postgame party wasn’t on the agenda.
“They just bought a new house, so he’s moving into that,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “He said he’s got boxes to unpack. I told him, ‘Let’s go celebrate.’ But tomorrow we’ll celebrate.”
Few, if any, Wild players were immune from wearing the team’s poor start, including Spurgeon. But as the team has rebounded, Spurgeon has re-established himself as one of the team’s steadiest contributors.
“He figures things out and not one time that I remember did I go up to him and say, ‘Is everything all right? Are you struggling with something?’ because you knew,” Boudreau said. “I’ve been around him long enough that eventually it was going to turn around because he’s too good of a player.”
Center Eric Staal became the 113th player to reach the 1,200-game plateau with his appearance Friday and just the second to do so since breaking into the NHL in 2003.
“Any time you’re at a whole number like that, it’s a cool feeling,” said Staal, who tallied a goal and assist against the Senators. “You never as a kid would have imagined playing one never mind as many as I have. I’m grateful and appreciate every day. This is a tough league. This is a tough business to do, and I’m hoping for many more yet. But these are nice little moments to look back on.”