ST. LOUIS – When center Eric Staal was sidelined with a stomach bug on Tuesday against the Sharks, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was looking for someone to provide a lift in Staal’s absence.
Center Joel Eriksson Ek was a candidate who came to Boudreau’s mind, but Eriksson Ek didn’t boost the team like Boudreau hoped.
Afterward the two chatted and as the week progressed, Eriksson Ek became a more visible cog in the Wild’s offense — an uptick in impact that culminated in his first goal of the season Sunday in the 3-2 win over the Blues at Enterprise Center at the conclusion of the team’s seven-game road swing.
“It was just to believe a little bit more in myself,” Eriksson Ek said of Boudreau’s message. “Be a little more patient with the puck and make some plays and not overthink the situation. Just play hockey and be yourself.”
The words certainly seemed to resonate with the 21-year-old.
Following that 4-3 loss in San Jose, Eriksson Ek secured his first point of the season — an assist — in his 100th career game Friday against the Ducks. On Sunday, he redirected in the rebound off a shot from rookie Jordan Greenway in the second period.
“I was really happy for him,” Boudreau said. “He works so hard and wants it so much. For him to score, whether it’s an open net or whether it’s from a foot out, it doesn’t matter. … There’s a lot of relief.”
This emergence from Eriksson Ek has coincided with him rejoining Greenway and winger Charlie Coyle on a line, a unit that worked together at the start of the season.
“We all play the game pretty much the same way,” Eriksson Ek said. “Three big bodies that want to play with the puck down low and go from there.”
The Blues’ attempt at a comeback late in the third period hit a snag when winger David Perron was penalized for slashing defenseman Nick Seeler — a continuation of the two’s battle in the game.
Earlier in the third both were called for roughing, and their confrontation morphed into a shouting match from the penalty boxes.
“That’s hockey,” said Seeler, who had one of his front teeth knocked out during the game in Anaheim. “You get into it with some guys. We both play hard, and sometimes it happens. Yeah, it was nice to have them take a penalty so we can try to get more offense going and not sit back on our heels and then pull the goalie. That was nice.”
Building a lead
It’s too early to overanalyze the standings, but there’s nothing wrong with building a lead — a luxury the Wild couldn’t capitalize on last season.
“Everybody goes through something,” Boudreau said, “whether it’s injuries, whether it’s a downward part of the schedule that makes it tough for you. It happens. So to get that little cushion is really important. It’s something we never had last year because we started out very mediocre, so we grinded and grinded. And the year before, we had a good cushion when we had a bad month of March and it worked out for us. So that’s what you want to do.”
The Wild reassigned forward Matt Read to the American Hockey League. Read was recalled Thursday when Staal was sick and center Matt Hendricks was dealing with bumps and bruises, but Read didn’t draw into the lineup during his call-up. Hendricks is ready to return to action, but he didn’t play Sunday.