Forwards Zach Parise and Erik Haula did not practice with the Minnesota Wild on Monday, and both remain day-to-day as the Wild prepares for Game 1 of its first round series against the Dallas Stars, on Thursday.
Interim Head Coach John Torchetti said he likes Haula's chances — " Playing on that line, and maybe playing" — but if Haula doesn't play, it could affect one of the Wild's defensive strategies.
Skating on a line with wingers Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville, Haula has consistently matched up against the opponent's top scoring line. For the Dallas Stars that means Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Patrick Sharp.
That Haula line was assembled when Torchetti took over in mid-February, and played its first game together six days after the final Wild-Stars regular season game.
Seguin has been out since March 17 after lacerating his Achilles tendon. He practiced for the first time since on Monday, and Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff said it's too early to tell if Seguin will be ready for Thursday.
"I’m not going to rule him out, but I can’t tell you he’s in right now," Ruff said.
Forward Zac Dalpe, who played the final two games of the season in Minnesota and his first for the Wild, took Haula's spot in practice on Monday.
"It’s tough but you’re in that role for a reason," Dalpe said of the potential matchup against Benn's line. "They’re obviously great players, world-class players, but you have to earn the trust that you’re good to play against them. I’m excited for the challenge and we’ll go from there.”
Dalpe said he played on a shutdown line when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes, but on the wing, and not at center, with Brandon Sutter in the middle.
"I look at that role as a shutdown, but also bring offense," Dalpe said. "The thing with those two guys, with Pominville and Nino, they’re offensive guys, so I want to fit right in.”
Another option for the Wild could be the Mikko Koivu line. During the Wild and Stars' season series, Koivu saw the biggest share of the Wild's even-strength minutes among forwards against Benn and Seguin.
Koivu has been skating on a line recently with Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker.
"We have to know if they're out there, if that's who we're against, to play hard on them," Coyle said. "Finish checks, lead with the stick, finish through, and don't make it easy for them."
Defensively, the Wild will hope to deploy Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon against Dallas' top forwards whenever possible. But that will also be difficult: In the two Minnesota-Dallas games at American Airlines Center this season, with the Stars afforded last change, it was Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin getting the most ice time against Benn and company.
"It’s 20 guys, 20 guys have to know what’s going on out there, where guys are, and read different situations," Suter said. "Whenever you play top players, you have to really be focused.”
That's another layer to this chess match. Should Haula play, and skate on that line, it's possible the Stars could look to use last change on home ice to avoid the matchup regardless.
It's why no matter who is out against Dallas' top scorers, Torchetti said the Wild needs to be clean in the neutral zone, and Coyle said spending as much time as possible in Dallas' offensive zone will be key.
"When they're playing in their own zone, they're going to get frustrated," Coyle said. "When you have a shift in your own zone, and you don't touch the puck, or you don't even cross the other blue line, it kind of gets in your head and you start feeling bad about your game. You (think) you're not doing enough for your team."
Meanwhile, Torchetti said he has plenty of confidence in Dalpe should he play center on that line and draw the assignment.
Dalpe, who played eight games in Iowa of the American Hockey League this season, limited by two significant injuries, played one game under Torchetti.
"He's not a rookie," Torchetti said. "He's got some years of experience, and I like his size, I like his skating, and he's got a great shot.
"We've been through a lot together meaning, he was injured for three months, we got to talk a lot, so you get to see what type of person he is. It's pretty rewarding seeing him in our lineup going into the playoffs if he's one of our starting 12 forwards."