Wild winger Zach Parise would love to fling pucks into the net as he’s cruising into the offensive zone, a skill he still works on in his 14th NHL season.
But Parise knows he’s at his best the closer he is to the crease.
And because he continued to report there for duty even after an injury-plagued 2017-18, Parise has had a tremendous start to this season with three goals and a team-high 11 points through nine games.
“You always try to expand your game and become a better player in different areas and work on weaknesses,” Parise said. “Just throughout my whole life and career, that’s kind of where I’ve had my success — around the net. That’s just me. I know that’s what I gotta do. I gotta get to the net.
“At the same time, it’s not about just standing at the net. It’s being smart about it.”
The 34-year-old secured the Wild’s first goal of the season Oct. 4 against the Avalanche off a redirect in the blue paint. On Saturday, he tapped in a loose puck as the screen in front in the 5-4 overtime victory over the Lightning. And even his empty-netter the night before in Dallas came as he accompanied a carom toward the yawning cage.
This was the type of impact Parise flashed last season when he returned for the second half following back surgery in October. Although a fractured sternum knocked him out of the playoffs, he’s had no problem picking up where he left off.
“It was kind of just a continuation of how I was feeling at the end of the season last year,” he said. “I was able to work on a lot of things this summer that I hadn’t really been able to prior. It’s early; the points [are] rewarding, but I’m more excited just how I’m feeling physically and how I’m skating and moving. It feels way better. I feel like I can get on the puck quicker and win a battle once in a while. It’s nice.”
Marcus Foligno was battling a bug last week, but the rugged winger certainly didn’t play like he was under the weather.
After he contributed a workmanlike effort to the 3-1 victory over the Stars a week ago, Foligno scored his first goal of the season in that victory against the Lightning.
“Just had to get something out of my system, lose a little bit of weight,” Foligno joked. “Honestly, I feel like I’d been playing well before the [eighth] game leading up to the Tampa Bay Lightning goal. I just thought it was going to happen eventually.”
Foligno’s tally, a backhand finish after getting behind the Lightning’s defense, atoned for a goal given up by his line earlier in the game — an important response since the fourth unit doesn’t want to be susceptible in the Wild’s third of the ice.
“As long as we’re playing smart and not getting scored against and taking care of our own end,” Foligno said, “we’ll get looks in the offensive zone. For the most part, we’re coming around now.”
Veteran Matt Hendricks’ absence because of a lower-body injury has left Foligno, center Eric Fehr and winger J.T. Brown as the mainstays on the fourth line. Since this is the first time the trio has played together, it’s taken a while for the players to get familiar with each other.
“I know about these players by playing against them,” Foligno said. “But just knowing their tendencies on the ice, what they like to do, it’s been a learning curve. But it’s good to get things going.”
Winger Matt Read was bumped from the Eric Staal-Jason Zucker line, getting replaced by winger Nino Niederreiter as he worked to climb out of a scoreless funk to start the season, but coach Bruce Boudreau was pleased by Read’s two-game debut last week after he was recalled from Iowa of the American Hockey League following Hendricks’ injury.
“He’s done well,” Boudreau said. “He’s come in, and what he’s got is a lot of smarts and a lot of competitiveness. You don’t play in this league this long without doing it.”