BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Nino Niederreiter returned to the Wild from Cancun with a sunburn and all his fingers still attached.
On vacation during the All-Star break with teammates Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba and Darcy Kuemper, Niederreiter & Crew spotted a bunch of signs warning of alligators as they golfed. Then, as they approached one hole, the four Wild players looked up to see a big alligator sunning himself on the shore of a lake.
So, naturally, the players tiptoed closer in order to pose for a picture with the reptile that Niederreiter posted on his Twitter and Instagram accounts (@thelnino22).
“It was probably 3 or 4 feet away with his mouth open the whole time looking at us,” Niederreiter said, laughing. “So we took a quick pic and got out of there. It was neat to see them … in action, I guess.”
Niederreiter said it was fun to get away, lie in the sun, golf, get in a couple of workouts and “mainly take a break and relax.”
Now Niederreiter, who scored a career-high 24 goals last season, hopes to put a difficult first half behind him. The former Islander scored his ninth goal in his 50th game against his old team Tuesday. He had eight shots, giving him 92 this season. He was in a two-goals-in-33-games drought heading into the matchup against the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2010.
“Definitely not easy,” Niederreiter, before the game, said of the slump. “If the team is winning, everything is OK. But when you’re losing, that’s when it gets hard on yourself and when you think about those things a lot.
“That’s what happened before the All-Star break. But now coming up, it’s a new season basically. Thirty-three games, and we need definitely a huge push from everyone.”
Coach Mike Yeo hopes Niederreiter has turned the corner.
“The last three or four games, Nino’s game has looked a lot closer to the way it should,” Yeo said. “There was a little stretch where things went the wrong direction, but I think it has been coming back.”
Goalie Devan Dubnyk was still beaming from his All-Star Game experience, especially bringing 2½-year-old son Nate onto the ice during the breakaway challenge.
“I didn’t bring [infant] Parker on. He has a tough time being happy at the best of times right now. He’s usually hungry or sleeping,” Dubnyk said. “Nate was in awe of the players skating and the sticks, well, until he did get spooked when the fans cheered. He looked around at the 18,000 people and told me he wanted to go back to mommy.
“But he did get to share time with [Wild mascot] Nordy, who he absolutely loves.”
With the league trying to increase scoring, goalie jerseys, chest protectors and pants are expected to shrink next season. Dubnyk is among a handful of goalies from whom the NHL and NHL Players’ Association is getting feedback.
At the All-Star Game, NHL official Kay Whitmore gave Dubnyk an idea of what to expect.
“It’s nothing really drastic, so it was good,” Dubnyk said. “We all kind of had the same idea behind it. As long as we’re protected and we can move OK, that’s all that matters.”
Dubnyk said the league wants to decrease the sweater size and “round out the contour” of the arms on the chest pad and the legs and waste of the pants.
Ryan Carter, who missed seven games since getting hurt in a fight Jan. 10, returned to the lineup. Justin Fontaine was scratched for the third time in four games.