More than a year has passed since the fight and injury, a punch thrown by Matt Dumba that missed its intended target in the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk but still dealt a blow — tearing the Wild defenseman’s right pectoral muscle.
Yet the incident still crosses Dumba’s mind regularly.
“It’s something that’s part of my daily routine, warming up my pec,” Dumba said. “So I think about it each day. It put me through a lot.”
After surgery and months of recovery, Dumba reported for training camp ready to play and has been in the Wild’s lineup for every game this season.
But he still is facing adversity.
Dumba, 25, is trying to recalibrate his game amid a rocky patch, and he’ll have one more chance to make strides before the Wild pauses for the three-day holiday break — a Monday matinee with Calgary at Xcel Energy Center that’ll be Dumba’s first game against the Flames since he was sidelined.
“You try to quiet those feelings [of frustration] by working hard and doing the little things and trying to be a good team guy,” he said. “Just do whatever I can for my teammates.”
Dumba played arguably the best hockey of his NHL career last season. He was a lightning rod for offense, scoring 12 goals and racking up 22 points in 32 games, and skated mostly on the Wild’s top defensive pairing.
Until Dec. 15.
That’s when he fought Tkachuk, an encounter that was retaliation for a heavy but legal hit Dumba laid on the Flames’ Mikael Backlund in the previous matchup.
“I know injuries are inevitable in this game,” said Dumba, who missed the final 50 games of the Wild’s season. “You have to work through that. It’s early in my career, so hopefully I can still have a good, long career and have longevity and battle through it.”
Asked if he still feels the injury, Dumba said, “No, I don’t think so. I try not to have any hesitation or stuff like that. I guess sometimes that happens with an injury of that extent. That’s part of it.”
Since returning, though, Dumba hasn’t rediscovered his rhythm. Through 37 games, he has scored just three times and has 10 points. Only four of those points have come on the power play, where he was a specialist in 2018-19.
His minus-11 standing is among the worst on the team, and once Jared Spurgeon returned last week from injury, Dumba was bumped from the first defensive unit but not back to his previous home on the second pairing. He was demoted to the third trio.
The switch indicates how well Jonas Brodin and Carson Soucy are playing together as the second pair, but it’s also a move designed to grow Dumba’s confidence by giving him different matchups.
“Matt will tell you it’s not exactly where he wants it to be,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of Dumba’s play. “But I thought the last two games, you look at it in Phoenix he was [plus-1], which is a real positive thing. He wasn’t on for any [goals] against [Saturday vs. Winnipeg]. He’s starting to calm it down, and I think it’s just a matter of time before we get him back to where he was.”
Dumba hasn’t scored since Nov. 12 in Los Angeles, a goalless skid of 19 games, but an assist Tuesday at Vegas stopped a 14-game pointless rut. He’s had chances, tallying 26 shots this month — including a team-high five in the 6-0 loss to the Jets on Saturday. Perhaps his best chance came against the Golden Knights, when his shot rolled wide of an empty net.
Two nights before in Chicago, after he was on the ice for the Blackhawks’ winning goal and finished a minus-3, Dumba called his struggles “a mental battle” and a slump he’d never experienced.
This, however, isn’t the first time Dumba has had to persevere.
Actually, that’s how he spent most of the past year.
“I’ll get through it,” Dumba said. “I’ll be fine.”