DALLAS – When forward Erik Haula makes his expected debut in the Minnesota Wild-Dallas Stars best-of-7 first round series on Saturday, it will give Wild interim Head Coach John Torchetti another piece on his chessboard.
There was plenty of talk prior to the start of this series about how the Wild would attempt to match up against the Stars top line. Though it's been without forward Tyler Seguin thus far, Dallas could be returning its second-leading goal scorer, who has been out with a lacerated Achilles, on Saturday.
With Haula back though, the Wild has the three pieces to its shutdown line reassembled: Haula skates between Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville, and the trio is generally tasked with locking down the opposition's top scoring line.
In Game 1, it was forward Mikko Koivu who saw the most even-strength time against Jamie Benn. In Game 2 that could change if Torchetti gets his way.
"We’ll see how it is starting off early and we’ll see what they’re looking for," said Torchetti, who indicated having Haula available will play a role in determining who gets that defensive assignment.
However, part of that will be determined by Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff. At home, and afforded the luxury of last change, Ruff's stake in this chess match carries more chips than Torchetti's.
In Game 1, Torchetti handed in his lineup card first, with Koivu starting the game. Ruff countered with a line of Radek Faska, Antoine Roussell, and Ales Hemsky.
"They’re looking like they want to do more of the Faksa line against [Koivu] and get Roussel a little bit more in his face," Torchetti said. "We’ve got to take advantage of that too. If they’re going to put their third line against one of our first lines, we’ve got to compete a little bit more and get a little greasy, get some pucks in the offensive zone and get a little more possession time.”
The Wild juggled its line in practice on Friday, expected to carry those combinations into Saturday, and that could throw everything in a blender in terms of how Ruff proceeds.
Having Haula back though, and using that line against the Benn line, could also open up more offensive opportunities for the Wild's top six.
"Whatever it is out there, you don’t try to think too much of it," Charlie Coyle said. "Just play your game, know who you're out there against, what they're capable of and their tendencies, and focus on yourself, and your line, and what you have to do to be your best for the team that shift."