DENVER – Wild coach Bruce Boudreau could have changed all four lines, a scramble that wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as an overreaction considering how timidly the team’s offense skated at times in a season-opening 5-2 slip-up against the Predators on Thursday in Nashville.
But he didn’t.
Instead, only two forwards switched spots after a deflating debut and the team held a businesslike, instructional practice Friday in Colorado in preparation for its next test Saturday against the Avalanche.
“You have to pull back the reins and say, ‘It was Game 1. Let’s not go into a full-fledged panic here,’ ” Boudreau said.
A less-is-more strategy didn’t pan out for the Wild vs. the Predators, but perhaps it’ll translate better to the lineup adjustments.
After just one regular-season game together, albeit an unflattering outing in which the trio went a combined minus-9 and managed just one shot, the top line of wingers Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello and center Eric Staal was dismantled.
Parise lined up next to center Luke Kunin and winger Jordan Greenway, while Ryan Donato was promoted to take Parise’s spot.
Captain Mikko Koivu remained between wingers Jason Zucker and Kevin Fiala, while the fourth unit featuring wingers Marcus Foligno and Ryan Hartman and center Joel Eriksson Ek also remained intact.
“I just thought this would be a situation where I didn’t change everything around,” Boudreau said, “but one change to show that maybe it helps both players.”
The Parise-Staal-Zuccarello line logged one preseason game and was united in practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Parise said he would have liked more time with Staal and Zuccarello.
“It makes it difficult,” he said. “You’d like to work at things. You’d like to talk. When you’re playing with a couple guys that haven’t played together before, sometimes it works great right off the bat and sometimes you’ve got to work at it.
“ … They’re good players. And to be honest, I thought we had a good first period together. We didn’t play much in the second and the third. I thought our first was good with zone time and possession. We didn’t spend a lot of time in our own zone.”
Boudreau might have tried Zucker on the left side of Staal and Zuccarello, but he wanted to keep Zucker with Fiala after liking the two together Thursday. And Donato has some familiarity with Zuccarello since he was on Zuccarello’s line when he was taking a test drive at center in training camp.
“You’ve always got to be ready to receive the puck,” Donato said. “He sees things that other guys can’t. If you’re in the offensive zone, just be ready to get the puck and be ready to shoot. Sometimes he’ll pass up chances to shoot and find you in an unbelievable spot because he draws a lot of attention. Same with Staalsy. He’s a playmaker that can also score goals. I feel like it’ll be a positive experience.”
Nashville does deserve some credit for stalling the Wild, especially since its neutral-zone pressure forces teams into dump-ins that can easily get turned the other way.
But the Wild can remedy that with better puck management through the middle, and against a speedy opponent like the Avalanche, cutting back on turnovers will be key.
“I hate being a team that sits back, and I thought we sat back a lot [Thursday] night,” Boudreau said. “I’ve always said, ‘I want to be an in-your-face type of team and create turnovers and be able to go,’ and I think we have to get better at that if we want to score more goals. We talked about it and showed some video [Friday] and we went on the ice and changed some things up, and hopefully we will be a little more aggressive.”