For so long Thursday night, the Wild did a great job pushing the play and showing the character that will be needed if Zach Parise is going to be sidelined awhile.
Parise was injured 30 seconds into his first shift against the Nashville Predators, an apparent right knee injury that might be serious and could leave the Wild without its top goal scorer for some time.
Mike Yeo shuffled the lines, and the Wild got a tying goal from Matt Dumba in the third period. But afterward, the Wild got loose and, as Yeo put it, “soft” defensively, and one turnover late in the third period proved costly in a 3-2 loss at Xcel Energy Center.
Jason Pominville didn’t corral Thomas Vanek’s backhanded pass, instead trying to one-touch a puck to Ryan Suter. The puck was turned over and 10 seconds later Cody Hodgson was celebrating the eventual winner after goalie Devan Dubnyk didn’t get the whistle he felt he deserved.
“Bottom line is we’re losing Zach and we’re probably going to lose some offense,” Yeo said. “What does that mean? Does that mean you push harder to try to score more and then give up a little bit more defensively?
“We didn’t handle that situation too well. Instead of digging in a little bit more defensively, we got a little soft there and it cost us the game.”
Yeo will provide an update on Parise on Friday, but it didn’t look good even though Suter hoped it was a good sign his buddy was working out after the game. Just 1 minute, 15 seconds into the first period, Parise was hit by Predators forward James Neal, who was “running around all night,” Suter felt.
High in the offensive zone, Parise turned to backhand a loose puck into the slot when Neal came from behind and checked him above the numbers. Their knees collided, and Parise’s twisted before he fell.
Parise had trouble getting to his feet, skated gingerly to the bench and limped down the runway.
Parise didn’t miss a shift, though. He returned so quickly, Parise was on the ice when orthopedic surgeon Joel Boyd showed up in the tunnel to talk to athletic trainer John Worley.
But five shifts later — after a 4-on-4 in which he clearly wasn’t himself — Parise left for good with 2:23 left in the period.
“It’s never easy losing a guy like that. It’s a guy you can’t replace anyway,” Jason Zucker said of Parise, who led the Wild with 33 goals last season and again with seven this season.
“The second you don’t see him on the ice, it hits home for everybody,” Dubnyk added. “He’s our guy.”
The Wild, which has less than $648,000 in salary-cap space, has no healthy forwards on the roster with Tyler Graovac and Justin Fontaine hurt. Also, things are thin in the minors.
Zac Dalpe and Michael Keranen are hurt in Iowa, which has only scored 17 goals in 12 games. The Wild’s most skilled forwards remaining are Christoph Bertschy, Zack Mitchell and Brett Bulmer. Former NHL veteran Ruslan Fedotenko is also at Iowa, but he has no goals in nine games.
“It’s pretty big shoes to fill,” Dumba said.
Vanek took Parise’s spot on the Mikael Granlund-Pominville line and Charlie Coyle skated with Erik Haula and Ryan Carter, although Chris Porter and Jordan Schroeder saw occasional shifts.
“A lot of whistles, everyone was with everyone,” Suter said. “[Nate Prosser] was gone in the third [with an undisclosed injury]. Just kind of chaos to be honest with you. A lot going on and it was tough to get into a game like that.”
With 5:21 left, Dubnyk, debuting new pads, didn’t look clean when he stopped Hodgson’s shot. The whistle never blew, and ultimately Dubnyk partially stood. The puck fell and a driving Hodgson put it home.
“His explanation was the puck was sitting between my legs the whole time and that’s why he didn’t blow the whistle,” Dubnyk said of the ref. “All you need to do is watch the replay to realize that wasn’t the case, and the reason the puck came loose was because I moved because he didn’t blow the whistle.”