SAN JOSE, CALIF. — The Wild was saddled with back-to-back losses after its first test without captain and defenseman Jared Spurgeon last month, the team's lead atop the Central Division at only one point.
The standings look much different seven games later.
While Spurgeon has been out since a Nov. 20 game at Florida because of a lower-body injury, the Wild has surged to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and built a seven-point buffer between its first-place spot in the division and the closest competition.
And the position group left to overcome Spurgeon's absence has been instrumental in this climb.
"We praise our depth, and I think a lot of times people think our depth is our four lines," coach Dean Evason said. "It's not. Our depth is our seven 'D' that are here."
Since the team's season-high seven-game win streak started Nov. 24, the Wild's second outing sans Spurgeon, the Wild has surrendered only 13 goals — a 1.86 goals-against average that's the third best in the NHL during that span.
Some of that steadiness is reflective of goaltender Cam Talbot, who has stopped 175 of 184 shots during five of those victories. But the blue line is also contributing to the stinginess.
"We knew it was going to have to be by committee, and that's what we've done," Talbot said. "We've got outstanding performances by all of them lately."
Without Spurgeon, roles and responsibilities have shifted and the defensemen have delivered amid the changes.
Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba have been extremely effective as shutdown specialists, especially in recent matchups against some of the NHL's top talent in Toronto's Auston Matthews and Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. None of those players scored against the Wild at even strength.
Jon Merrill has been elevated up the depth chart to take Spurgeon's seat next to Alex Goligoski and has provided the team with quality minutes, finishing each game during the win streak as an even or plus player.
As for Jordie Benn, he went from a healthy scratch to a mainstay on the third pairing alongside Dmitry Kulikov and the unit was key in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Oilers. Evason called Benn's effort vs. Edmonton likely his best game of the season, and Benn's stretch pass led to a breakaway goal by Kulikov in the third period.
"It just shows you the depth that you have," alternate captain Marcus Foligno said. "Obviously, losing a guy like a captain, especially in Jared, you might think guys might steer a little bit different directions. But we have such great, reliable defense back there."
Spurgeon continues to skate and is on the road trip, with Stop No. 2 on Thursday in San Jose the next opportunity for him to return.
"We've had a good run the last few games," Kulikov said. "We're a confident group, but he's our captain. He's a big part of our team, and we certainly miss him in the lineup."
This stint without its No. 1 defenseman could have tripped up the Wild.
Instead, the team has produced its most impressive hockey of the season with a win streak that's tied for the third longest in team history — a response that makes the Wild's potential once Spurgeon is back in action intriguing.
"Our 'D' has been a huge, huge reason why we're on the run that we're on," Foligno said.