EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Center Eric Staal probably headlines the opposition’s scouting report on the Wild, attention that’s merited with Staal in the midst of a tear that has him ranking among the top goal scorers in the NHL.
But recently, he hasn’t been the only player other teams have had to worry about since the Wild has experienced production from all four lines.
“When you have balanced scoring throughout, it’s hard to cover just one person,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“Eric’s done everything we’ve asked of him, but he’s not the only guy on the team.”
In the three games leading up to its Saturday meeting with the Oilers in Edmonton, the Wild received goals from eight different players, 16 registered at least a point and every line chipped in at least a goal in its previous two games.
“We’ve had some consistency with the lineup lately,” Boudreau said. “We didn’t do a lot when we came to the trading deadline.
“Once that was over, everybody knew who was going to be here. … So everybody pretty well knows who’s in the lineup every night. We haven’t done a lot of shifting around, and I think that’s helped.”
Aside from moving past the deadline, the regulars have been healthy — another factor that’s stoked the stability. And the third line looks like the latest to be thriving on chemistry, as it set the tone in a 5-2 win over the Canucks on Friday with its work ethic.
Center Matt Cullen scored off a slick set up by winger Tyler Ennis, and Cullen handed off to winger Charlie Coyle for an empty-netter amid a five-point effort for the trio.
“We played simple at the start,” Coyle said. “We didn’t play much in our zone. We didn’t give up much, and I think a lot of talk. Cully is really vocal, and that makes it that much easier when you have a guy in the middle yelling.
“I think it makes breaking out easier, and I think our wall play was pretty good down low.”
Goalie Devan Dubnyk remained between the pipes for the second half of the Wild’s back-to-back after posting 30 saves Friday.
Dubnyk has been solid against the Oilers in his career, and Boudreau pointed out the team’s schedule gets lighter in coming weeks.
“[Backup] Alex [Stalock] will get his fair share coming in and starting probably in Arizona next weekend,” Boudreau said.
Saturday was the 50th game Dubnyk appeared in this season, staying fresh mentally is more of a focus for Dubnyk than worrying about getting worn down physically.
“This is what comes with being a starting goaltender,” he said. “But it’s just important to take the breaks when you can and off days try to check out and make sure that you’re getting away from it a little bit so you can stay sharp.”
Right spot, right time
Plenty of Staal’s 37 goals have come off of shots he’s put on net, but the 33-year-old also seems to have a knack for getting his body set up in the right position around the net to redirect pucks in — like he did against the Canucks.
This is an area Staal’s paid more attention to with how much defenses try to box out forwards in today’s game.
“If you can get early body position, it makes a difference,” Staal said.
“When we’ve got elite playmakers and guys that can see openings that we have on this team from the back end or up front, you put yourself in that position a lot of time the puck’s going to end up there.”
With a three-point effort Friday in the win over the Canucks, the Wild’s defense set a franchise record for most points from the blue line in a single season with 170 — surpassing the 169 accumulated last season in 14 fewer games.
Asked what the jump could be attributed to, defenseman Jared Spurgeon said, “Simple. Forwards scoring goals. We just shoot the puck, and they’ve been around the front of the net a lot this year getting tips or rebounds.
“I don’t think we’re too fancy back there. We just try to be supportive.”