During a hard practice designed to get sweat pouring, the Wild’s Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle line had a new left winger for the third time this season.
Zach Parise started the season on that line, then Nino Niederreiter stepped in. On Wednesday, following the Wild’s 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, it was Jason Zucker, who spent the first part of this season revolving between the third and fourth lines.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said he’s trying to find the right balance for a line that has been good … but not great.
“We need at one point somebody to come out and get a four-point night, you know, and just dominate,” Boudreau said. “Sometimes you wake up and you feel so good, you know nothing’s going to go wrong and everything goes right. We just need somebody to jump up and do that, and if we do that, great, it’ll spur everybody on.”
Boudreau is used to coaching teams with gamebreakers such as Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry, and it remains to be seen if the Wild has that type of player. The closest might be Coyle, the type of player who has all the tools yet makes coaches crave for more production almost nightly.
Tuesday was a perfect example. Coyle was the a visibly dangerous player, especially in the second period, but at the end of the night, he had no points and only one shot. He dangled beautifully through the slot, he drove the net often … but plays often died because Coyle couldn’t get a shot off, forced passes for turnovers or sent a pass off a teammate’s skate.
Boudreau, on Wednesday, told Coyle, who has three goals, four assists and 18 shots in 10 games, “You’re teasing me.”
“He does have the ability in every aspect — from size, speed, shot, stickhandling — to be a great player,” Boudreau said. “It’s just up to his determination to how great he wants to be.”
This has been a theme for Coyle during his pro career, and his primary goal is to play with more consistency. He scored a career-high 21 goals last season, with 11 coming in an 18-game stretch directly before going the final 18 games without a goal.
The Wild’s next game is Saturday in Colorado, and Coyle and Staal feel as if the line is close to breaking out.
“It feels like it’s right there, right on the cusp,” Coyle said. “We’re getting those chances, and we need the end result, and it’s not good enough ’til we get that. Obviously you’re not going to put up a couple goals every game, but we want to create those chances and be a force out there against whatever line we’re out against and be that better line.”
Said Staal: “I’m pretty comfortable with Charlie and then whoever’s on our left side. We can still get better as far as zone time and spending even more time in the offensive zone, trusting each other, trusting the cycle, trusting the back of the net.
“Charlie and I are getting closer on that.”
The hope is Zucker, who has seven points and is plus-9 in 10 games despite averaging only 11 minutes, 42 seconds a game, can help. Boudreau does not seem enamored of Zucker’s overall game, especially defensively, and indicated he was on the Staal line by default.
“His history has been that he’s a goal scorer, so maybe they can give him the puck,” Boudreau said.
Niederreiter hasn’t provided the consistent balance Boudreau wanted from an all-big line. On Wednesday, Niederreiter found himself on the fourth line.
“I like playing with Zuck because of his speed,” Coyle said. “You put pucks in areas, and he’s going to be first on it. He’s got grit in his game down low, too, and is strong for a guy his size. So I think the line has a good mix of everything.
“We just have to keep it going and when we don’t score in games not get down on it and just keep at it. We can do better at hanging on to the puck down low and outworking teams and just being big bodies. That’s us.”