NEW YORK – There are many factors why Wild defensemen seem to be jumping into the offensive attack more than yesteryear.
The Wild’s coaching staff is harping on it more, but it’s become habit after really stressing it last year. The games of young defensemen Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin have naturally matured, so they’re more confident making plays. And team continuity is a huge factor. The Wild’s top four defensemen have played with the majority of the Wild’s top six forwards the past three seasons.
“We’re learning how to read off our forwards better and vice versa,” said Scandella, who starting with a retrieval Saturday against Tampa Bay called out to Jason Pominville that he would be jumping into the rush as a fourth man. Pominville executed a perfect blue-line exchange before Scandella drove the net for the game’s first goal. “We’re skating fast but also making decisions faster than we were last year.”
In that same 7-2 win, Thomas Vanek hit Spurgeon for a 2-on-1 layup and Ryan Suter skated deep into the offensive zone to set up Zach Parise. The game before, Spurgeon assisted on two goals, the second being Pominville’s insurance tally when he recognized he could catch the Arizona Coyotes off guard by turning a 3-on-3 into a 4-on-3.
“When you play against teams whose D are mobile, you can’t really take a backcheck off because you’ll get beat up ice,” Parise said. “My philosophy is 4-on-3 is like the new 3-on-2. You’ve got to activate the fourth guy, otherwise you’re going to be playing 2-on-3 or 3-on-3 the whole night.
“With our guys, the way they skate, the way they jump in at the right time, it just gives you a whole other option.”
Parise said it must continue. He pointed out how the Wild’s defensemen piled up points early last season, too, before it suddenly stopped and “not coincidentally we stopped scoring.”
Not shockingly, the student of the game was accurate.
In the first six games last season, the Wild’s defensemen combined for four goals and 11 assists. In the first six games this season heading into Monday’s game at the Rangers, the Wild’s defensemen combined for four goals and 10 assists. The big difference was last year’s defensemen were plus-6 the first six games. This year, they were plus-28.
“When you start to lose games, the natural thing is, ‘We’ve got to defend,’” Parise said. “So then all of a sudden you stop jumping, you just try to not give up goals rather than scoring. If I remember, that was the case. We were losing, so we just focused on staying back.”
Parise said, laughing, “That didn’t work. But we did a lot better job at the end of last season and seem to be this season. I mean, the way our guys can skate, you have to let them go. They’re all good enough skaters that if they get caught, they’ll get back.
“You can see, it’s been paying off and I think we can do it better even.”
Monday was Parise’s first game at Madison Square Garden since Dec. 22. After that game, he missed the next 14 games because of a broken foot.
“I tried to finish the trip, but it kept getting worse and worse,” said Parise, who tried to play on the bum foot for weeks. “I’d start every game fine, but by the third period, it’d be throbbing. That game here, I just remember thinking, ‘This is ridiculous. What am I doing?’ I couldn’t do anything.”
• The Wild didn’t yet receive test results as to what exactly plagued defensemen Keith Ballard and Christian Folin, but they missed their third games in a row Monday. Coach Mike Yeo expected them to skate back in the Twin Cities.
• Kyle Brodziak was scratched for a fifth consecutive game.