DENVER – Two years ago, Wild defenseman Matt Dumba was in the beginning stages of a slow start to the season.
He had only three points in the first 10 games, no goals through 17 and only three assists on the power play by December.
“I was actually working too hard,” Dumba recalled. “I didn’t know what was going on. I got myself in a hole and just thought, ‘Dig yourself out of it.’ ”
Dumba did eventually, picking up his productivity as the halfway mark of 2017-18 approached. Once the season ended, he established career highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50).
Those spikes enabled him to go into the offseason on a wave of momentum. And after a summer’s worth of specialized training, his shot became even better.
And despite getting sidelined because of a torn pectoral muscle for the final 50 games last season, Dumba has been able to rediscover that razor-sharp precision in his return to the lineup — an accuracy that is helping buoy the Wild’s lukewarm offense amid an 0-2 debut.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to put up a lot of big numbers this year,” coach Bruce Boudreau said Saturday after the team fell 4-2 to the Avalanche. “I think we get a lot of points from our defense. That’s where it seems everything stems from, our defense. But we’d like to be able to create more offensively from our forwards. One 5-on-5 goal each game is not going to cut it.”
After that latest setback to Colorado, two of the Wild’s four goals belonged to defensemen and each one was created by a defender’s shot.
In the 5-2 season-opening loss to the Predators on Thursday, winger Jason Zucker tipped in a Brad Hunt slapshot on a power play before winger Zach Parise got a piece of Dumba’s attempt on net Saturday, also with the man advantage.
“When you’re that screener, it’s a little scary because [Dumba] likes to go for the upper corners,” Parise said. “Every power play has something that’s your weapon. We want to get him the puck. We want to get him those one-timers and get him the shots. He makes a lot of good things happen when he gets that opportunity.”
While Dumba’s blistering shot Thursday came on his natural right side, his power-play assist in Game No. 2 came on his off-wing — a spot he’s comfortable setting up in when the Wild has an extra attacker.
“On those plays, they’ve been good screens,” he said. “It makes it easier for a shooter; just get your head up and find the corner. It’s a group effort. Just got the right look.”
The shot created the last goal of the game for the Wild, a rally that came up short after a spirited push to erase a two-goal deficit to the Avalanche.
This botched comeback also amplified the struggles the Wild’s forwards have had, especially at even strength.
Defenseman Ryan Suter has a team-high three points through two games; together with Dumba, the pair’s five points are more than the entire forward group combined.
No doubt it’s encouraging for the Wild that Dumba has been able to recapture his stroke after such a serious injury. He’s looked like the same player who racked up 12 goals in 32 games last season before he got hurt, displaying the accuracy he worked on two summers ago after his career year when he concentrated on where his shot was going rather than how much muscle he put behind it.
“When you catch it flush, it’s going to be hard,” he said. “You don’t necessarily gotta swing for the fence. You just gotta hit that sweet spot.”
But the Wild needs more scoring help, a stark reality entering its next block of games that has been reinforced by early results.
“When everyone is chipping in and everyone gets going, we are going to be dangerous,” Dumba said. “We just have to get to that.”