CALGARY, ALBERTA – When Bruce Boudreau was hired to coach the Wild, he came with the reputation of a coach who loved to roll four lines.
But other than the Wild's recent win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boudreau has limited the shifts of the Zack Mitchell-Tyler Graovac-Chris Stewart line. Kurtis Gabriel took Mitchell's place on the line Friday.
After Wednesday's practice, Boudreau said, "It is what it is," when asked if he'd like to play the fourth line more. Translation: With a line consisting of two young guys and a veteran perhaps not on top of his game, Boudreau hasn't felt confident that he can play them a regular shift.
Before Friday's game, Boudreau said, "I'd like to use them more," but then clarified that one reason they've been limited is the fact the Wild was one game below .500 the previous 11 games and playing a lot of tight contests. So, Boudreau said, he has been forced to double up other lines.
Stewart, 29 and six years removed from back-to-back 28-goal seasons, entered Friday's game with no goals in 15 games and no points in 14 before scoring his first goal since Oct. 25 in the first period.
"He's playing on the fourth line, not getting a lot of ice time, so you can't expect a lot of production," Boudreau said. "He gives you a lot of energy on the ice, a lot of energy in the room and a lot of energy on the bench. He's doing very good that way.
"Obviously we'd like to see more production, but you can't score from the bench. If he doesn't get scored on, I think it's a plus."
From his perspective, Stewart said he'd obviously like to play more than the 9 minutes, 34 seconds per game he's averaging the past 10 games and season-low 7:40 the game before in Vancouver.
But, he said: "Guys are producing, and it was one of the reasons I was brought here. I can go up and down the lineup. When I'm on the fourth line, I have to bring that energy game. For us, it's just as valuable as scoring. You need that physical element, and I take pride in that.
"I'm a team guy first. I have to put my personal agenda aside."
With the Wild worried the Flames might seek retribution for star Johnny Gaudreau breaking his finger in last month's Wild-Flames meeting from a slash, Gabriel, 23, was recalled to make his season debut. It was his fourth NHL regular-season game, totaling the amount he had for the Wild in last season's playoffs.
"I'm not a hired hit man or anything. I'm here to play hockey," Gabriel said before the game. "I know everybody knows I can play tough. I also know the game is changing. I've been working on it down [in Iowa]. I'm hoping to bring some energy like any fourth-line guy does."
Gabriel knows if he's ever going to play consistently in the NHL, he must do more than fight.
"I'm trying to prove that I can play consistently," Gabriel said. "I showed that in the playoffs. I know four games isn't much. I'm taking it one day at a time. Those old clichés are true. I'll try to play well and see if I make it to the next day."
•With Gabriel in, Mitchell, who has no points in 10 games, sat. "He has good games and then he'll be inconsistent, which a lot of American League guys tend to do," Boudreau said. "He's played every position for us and hasn't hindered us. He was on his first goal against in the 10 games [in Vancouver]."
•Defenseman Nate Prosser played and Gustav Olofsson was scratched, which allowed Jonas Brodin to move back to the left side.