Only former Gophers Thomas Vanek, Erik Haula, Jordan Leopold, Jordan Schroeder and Keith Ballard heard more trash-talking from the Wild’s Justin Fontaine on Friday than Calgary’s Joe Colborne.
The former Minnesota Duluth national champ thoroughly enjoyed the Bulldogs ending the Gophers’ season.
Before the Wild’s 4-2 victory over the Flames, Fontaine said he did a fair amount of “bickering” to teammates in the locker room regarding the Bulldogs’ fourth victory over the Gophers this season. Afterward, Fontaine said, “I think I’ve got bragging rights around here for the next year or so.”
Fontaine also let the Flames’ Colborne have it. Just 1 minute, 45 seconds after Colborne leveled Fontaine with a high check, Fontaine returned to set up Vanek’s go-ahead goal.
Coach Mike Yeo loved Fontaine’s response to the hit.
“Are we the most physical team?” Yeo said. “Not in the sense of running guys through the boards or dropping the gloves, but that’s a tough hockey player to come back from a hit like that the next shift and respond that way. That’s the kind of toughness that we’re asking for.”
Asked what he thought of a Bulldog setting up a Gopher particularly on this day, Vanek said: “Ah whatever. During the game, it’s fine. After, I’ll go home now and cry.”
Concern in the circle
Mikael Granlund said Friday morning that his struggles in the faceoff circle are weighing on him. Granlund, who centers Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, had won 69 of 193 faceoffs in the previous 14 games. That .357 faceoff winning percentage was well below his already below-par season .466 winning percentage, which ranks 72nd in the NHL among qualifying centers.
“It’s a big part of my struggles the last little while,” Granlund said before winning 10 of 14 faceoffs Friday night. “I have lost a lot of faceoffs. Right now I’m really pressing it and getting really tight about it. Right now, it’s in my mind all the time. It’s a confidence thing.”
After every practice, Granlund and fellow centers Charlie Coyle and Haula work overtime in the faceoff circle with captain Mikko Koivu, one of the NHL’s top drawmen, and assistant coach and former Wild center Darby Hendrickson.
The Wild ranks 16th in the NHL in faceoffs, but the only reason it’s not near the bottom is because Koivu ranks 11th with a .555 win percentage and is third in the NHL with 934 faceoff wins. Injured Kyle Brodziak has won 49.2 percent of his draws, Coyle 45.6 percent and Haula 44.5 percent.
In the third period of Tuesday’s come-from-behind shootout win over the Islanders, Yeo moved Koivu onto the Parise-Pominville line in large part because Granlund was in the midst of another poor game in the circle.
“I would say three games now, I feel like that line’s started without the puck every time they’re on the ice,” Yeo said before Friday’s game. “It’s a line we do have confidence the way they play without the puck. But at the same time, they’re a lot more dangerous if they had the puck.”
Granlund looked a lot more comfortable against the Flames. Also, in Round 2 of Mikael vs. younger brother Markus Granlund, Mikael assisted on a Matt Dumba goal and Markus scored a third-period goal. The brothers combined for three assists in a meeting last season.
Left winger Jason Zucker, who underwent surgery on a broken collarbone Feb. 12, continues to skate and shoot pucks with the Wild’s injured players. As good as Zucker has looked, Yeo indicated again Friday that he’s “a ways away” from being cleared for contact and might need to adhere to a strict three-month timetable. That would be May 7.
Defenseman Nate Prosser (sprained knee) has begun skating. Left winger Ryan Carter, out since Feb. 9 because of a separated shoulder, didn’t play because Yeo said wasn’t keen on him playing back-to-back games. The Wild plays Los Angeles on Saturday night.