After a week of inactivity for the National Hockey League’s All-Star Break, the Minnesota Wild restarts north of the border. The Wild kicks off a three-game Canadian roadie tonight against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.
The Wild will have Mikael Granlund back in the lineup against its old Northwest Division foe. The forward missed 13 games after suffering a fractured wrist on Dec. 27 against the Winnipeg Jets.
For the first time in a long time, the Wild looks like a healthy club.
The 22-year-old will center Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek. Having Granlund back in the middle means the team will have added depth and options at the pivot position. Mikko Koivu will center the second line, while Kyle Brodziak and Charlie Coyle will be up the middle on the third and fourth lines, respectively.
Additionally, Granlund will join the team’s second power play unit. At the Wild’s morning skate, the center was mixed with a rotating cast of Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker up front. Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin were on the point.
The club has relied heavily upon the No. 1 unit (Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter), which has been much stronger of late. Since Dec. 5, the Wild’s power play has scored on 22.2 percent of its chances, including five goals in its last four games. Yeo would like to get both units clicking, something that Granlund can help with on the second group.
“For your power play to be really good, you need to have two units,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “Adding Granny, another guy who can control the puck along the half wall, another guy who can find seams, and open up and create ice for other players should make a difference for that group.”
The group looks to have better blue line entries to set up more time in the offensive zone. Yeo thinks Granlund will have a positive impact carrying the puck through the neutral zone and also in the faceoff circle.
“Just getting setup has been tough enough for that group,” Yeo said. “I think that’s where Granny is going to make a big difference.”
Coyle also thinks the second unit can be more aggressive once they enter the zone, forechecking and winning battles to regain control of the puck.
“Sometimes on the power play, you think you can take it a little easy,” Coyle said. “But you have to work even harder getting the puck and getting control.”
The 22-year-old wants the second unit to create more chances and be more of a consistent of a threat.
“We want to be a unit that can compete with our first unit,” Coyle said. “We can’t just be a one-unit team and rely on them.”
Trying to keep the Oilers from scoring on the man advantage, or any other time for that matter, Devan Dubnyk will face the team that selected him in the first round (14th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The netminder posted a 61-76-21 record with a 2.88 GAA, .910 SV% and eight shutouts in 171 career games in Edmonton. Last season, he was traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Minnesota native Matt Hendricks.
This isn’t the first go-round against his former club. The netminder already faced the Oilers three times this season as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. He is 3-0-0 with a 0.97 GAA and a .968 SV%.
“I thought that was it for the year, but I get a chance to go three more times,” Dubnyk said. “It will be a tough challenge, it looks like the guys over there have been playing pretty well as of late.”
Yeo said the goals against the netminder in his final game before the break, where Dubnyk was pulled after allowing four against the Detroit Red Wings, weren’t his fault. After a layoff, Yeo said that it’s important for the team to get a strong start, which will help the goaltender find his game.
“We have to make sure we’re giving him a good chance,” Yeo said. “We have to give him an opportunity to settle into the game. Making sure that we’re playing strong in the first 10 minutes of the game; making sure we’re playing strong defensively; making sure we’re getting to the offensive zone. We do those things, we give him, along with everybody else, a good chance to get themselves into it.”