COLUMBUS, OHIO – Despite highlight-reel plays from Kevin Fiala, the Wild’s first line wasn’t the most productive during the team’s 3-0 run this week.
Neither were the second or third units.
With six goals and 14 points, it was the trio at the bottom of the depth chart — captain Mikko Koivu and wingers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman — that led the way offensively in wins against Columbus (twice) and Detroit.
“Is it a fourth line?” goalie Alex Stalock said. “I don’t know.”
A hierarchy has long divvied up the forwards on a team, but with the way the Wild is getting contributions from throughout the lineup lately, a trend that continued in the 5-0 dusting of the Blue Jackets on Friday at Nationwide Arena, interim coach Dean Evason is looking at the lines as equals rather than being assigned specific roles.
“Ideally, we would love to roll four lines and have everybody play the same way each and every night,” Evason said. “And when you’re out against the top players, you know who the top players are, and you play defense against them. But that doesn’t mean you can stop playing offense. You’re not just going out there to check. We want to play the game the right way.
“Every line is playing the same way. Our system is the same for all four lines. We don’t say, ‘You could check. You go score.’ Everybody is trying to score goals. We all want to score. And if we can continue to have that balance, which clearly we’ve had, then there’s no difference between one and four.”
This newfound depth, however, wouldn’t be a catalyst if Koivu, Donato and Hartman hadn’t started to chip in like they have. Maintaining that chemistry will be key for the team to keep relying on everybody.
“We’re doing a lot of the right things,” said Hartman, who scored off a Koivu setup Friday. “Mik’s winning a lot of draws for us. We’re starting with the puck a lot. Donny’s been making good plays, good passes. Obviously, he’s been getting to the net a lot, too, which isn’t necessarily a part of his game, but it’s been part of his game for the last few games. It’s been working really well for him. I think that’s been really good.”
Marcus Foligno’s phone was inundated with text messages last week after his brother and Columbus captain Nick suffered a pair of black eyes from taking a puck to the face. This week, Marcus Foligno got an up-close look at the damage with the Wild and Blue Jackets squaring off twice in four days.
“It probably could have been worse,” Foligno said. “Probably could have had no nose after that one. But he looks a little bit [like] a raccoon right now. The family’s having a good time with it in the group chat, sending messages to him. That’s the type of guy he is. He looks really tough right now.”
Ready, set, go
The Wild’s pursuit of a playoff spot isn’t the only race worth keeping an eye on the rest of the season.
After his three-point effort Thursday, Fiala tied Eric Staal for the most points on the Wild and then pulled ahead following a two-point showing Friday to pace the pack with 47.
Fiala had only 12 through the season’s first two months.
“Very proud,” the winger said. “I want to be that player. I’m very comfortable with that.”
The Wild recalled defenseman Matt Bartkowski from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis before Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets in case one of the team’s banged-up players couldn’t suit up.
But the Wild didn’t need to use Bartkowski, instead rolling out the same lineup from Thursday. That meant Stalock started on consecutive nights for the first time this season after his 25-save performance against the Red Wings, a decision Evason said was indicative of a lighter workload in Detroit and the fact Stalock has been on a roll of late.
After the victory Friday, Stalock improved to 7-1-1 over his past nine starts and 9-2-1 in his past 12. With his appearance vs. the Red Wings, the South St. Paul native also passed Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason to move into sixth place in games played by Minnesota-born NHL goalies at 146.