Opponents had a tough time prying points away from the Wild at Xcel Energy Center last season, a proficiency on home ice the team seemed to have recaptured in October.
But one area the group doesn’t want to stay the same in 2018-19 is its performance on the road, improvement the Wild can start to show soon since it’ll be the visitor for its next seven games.
“Last season we weren’t the road team we wanted to be,” center Eric Staal said. “We were obviously pretty solid at home, almost unbeatable. On the road, we need to be better.”
Although an 18-20-3 showing a season ago didn’t impede the Wild from advancing to the playoffs, it made its pursuit more challenging.
Despite going 27-6-8 at home, with those 62 points tied for the second-most in the NHL, the team didn’t clinch a playoff spot until only three games remained on the schedule.
Players are aware production on the road is vital, but what works at home doesn’t always translate to other buildings. Embracing the basics will be at the heart of the Wild’s approach.
“You want to be a little more simple on the road, and teams are going to come out and try to get atmosphere going, get excitement going in their own building,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “The more simple you can play — if we can get on the forecheck and just really stick with our game, with throwing pucks on the net, keeping the puck at the other end — it kind of slows that excitement down and that’s a key thing to playing on the road.”
Support from the crowd, last change and players getting to sleep in their own beds are all pluses for the home squad, but being on the road does offer a team a chance to build more chemistry. And the that isn’t lost on coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Home ice is an advantage,” he said. “But sometimes you want to get on the road, and you want to bond as a group. And when you’re starting to win on the road, it’s an awful lot of fun.”
Silver for Suter
Defenseman Ryan Suter was recognized before the game against the Avalanche on Saturday for playing in his 1,000th game Thursday.
A video tribute included messages from teammates, Wild General Manager Paul Fenton, Islanders coach Barry Trotz (who coached Suter when he was with the Predators) and Suter’s uncle Gary — who also reached the 1,000-game mark in the NHL.
Suter was accompanied on the ice by his wife, Becky, and their four children, and gifts included a crystal and a silver stick.
“The presentation and the video — the whole thing they do is pretty cool, and it’s special,” Staal said.
The only other player currently on the Wild to achieve the milestone, Staal keeps his silver stick on display in his basement.
“I just try and keep it out of the reach of the kids,” he said. “It’s pretty heavy, heavier than you think. So it kind of stays there. It’s in a good spot.”
Minor league debut
Rookie Jordan Greenway did not record a point in Iowa’s 6-5 overtime win Friday over the Colorado Eagles, but Boudreau said Greenway “played really well” in his American Hockey League debut — an assignment aimed at stoking his confidence. “They were very happy with him,” Boudreau said.
Forward Joel Eriksson Ek was activated off injured reserve Saturday, returning to the lineup after missing the previous six games with a lower-body injury. Veteran Matt Hendricks, however, remains sidelined with a lower-body injury. Hendricks has started to skate, but it’s unclear if he’ll accompany the team to Western Canada for its upcoming road trip. “He’s getting better,” Boudreau said.
Los Angeles’ Kyle Clifford was fined $4,301.08, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, for kneeing Greenway during the first period Thursday in the Wild’s 4-1 win over the Kings.