The same cast of characters has been near the top of the leaderboard for goals by defensemen in the NHL in recent seasons.
Brent Burns from the Sharks, the Lightning’s Victor Hedman and Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
But a new name is among the headliners this season, a spot Wild defenseman Matt Dumba hopes to maintain.
“Last year [I] kind of found myself there a couple times,” he said. “I want to push for that.”
After extending his goal-scoring streak to a career-high three games with his third in that span during a 3-2 loss to the Sabres at Xcel Energy Center, Dumba’s eight goals ranked second in the league by a blueliner; only the Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly (nine) had more.
Eight is also more than halfway to Dumba’s total output from last season (14), a career-best performance, and this progress seems indicative of a shot that is hitting the net more.
“When you look at the past years, at least that I’ve been here,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, “his shot was always 2 feet high or 2 feet wide. Now it’s starting to become way more accurate. And when he is accurate, he’s got the potential to get 20 [goals] in this league.”
Since winger Zach Parise was back in action Saturday after missing the game Thursday with illness, someone had to sit out as a healthy scratch. And for the first time this season, it was center Joel Eriksson Ek in what Boudreau called a “reset” for the 2015 first-round draft pick.
“This is sort of a take notice that we need a little bit more from you,” Boudreau said. “He plays hard every night. He does all the things you want to see him do defensively, but we just need a little more.”
Eriksson Ek missed six games in October with a lower-body injury and struggled to chip in offensively upon his return. He tallied his first point of the season, an assist, Nov. 9 in Anaheim against the Ducks and followed that effort with his first goal last Sunday in the 3-2 win over the Blues.
But in two games since, he went pointless with just one shot on goal — a tough start in what Boudreau feels is a season that will identify what kind of player Eriksson Ek is in the NHL.
“I really believe he can be a 15-goal, 40-point, third-line center and then just get better with that,” Boudreau said.
No changes needed
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?”
That was Boudreau’s thought process in deciding how to divvy up this weekend’s games between his two goaltenders.
No. 1 Devan Dubnyk, who had gone 2-1 in the first half of back-to-backs this season before Saturday’s loss, remained in the starter position, with backup Alex Stalock poised to close out the set Sunday against the Blackhawks as the closer — a role in which he is 3-0.
And Stalock’s skills with the puck may help explain why he’s thrived in that challenge.
“Alex is a pretty good puck handler and when defensemen are tired in the second game, he helps out an awful lot by being probably the better of the two puck handling,” Boudreau explained. “So it makes sense to do it that way.”
Forward Charlie Coyle put a season-high six shots on goal in the 6-2 win over the Canucks on Thursday, a huge bump in attempts on net that resulted in his first goal in 11 games. “Sometimes it comes in bunches,” he said. “Sometimes you’re doing the right thing, and it doesn’t come. Hockey’s a weird sport. You just focus on doing what makes you successful as a player and what’s going to help your linemates. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Solo hometown skate
Eden Prairie native Casey Mittelstadt took to the ice first during the Sabres’ warmup skate, marking his first NHL game at Xcel Energy Center.