Mike Reilly, former Gopher and Wild defenseman, sits out for Montreal
ST. PAUL -- It was an unfulfilled homecoming for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Reilly, the former Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Gophers and Academy of Holy Angels blue liner.
Reilly, scratched from Tuesday night's (Dec. 11) game against Minnesota, was caught in a numbers crunch with the Canadiens because Noah Juulsen returned after missing eight games with a facial fracture.
“I’ve got a lot of people coming, so it’d be disappointing if I didn’t get to play,” Reilly said before Tuesday night’s game. “The last few games since I was scratched last have been pretty good. We’re winning, too.”
A standout with Holy Angels in high school and the University of Minnesota in college, Reilly was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth round in 2011. He hit the open market after failing to reach a deal with the team after the 2014-15 season and instantly became one of the most sought-after collegiate free agents.
He signed a two-year, $1.85 million contract with the Wild on July 1, 2015, after a sweepstakes that featured him meeting with as many as 10 teams. He re-signed with Minnesota on July 1, 2017, for $1.45 million over two years before falling out of the blue-line rotation.
Reilly became expendable in Minnesota because he was unable to consistently crack the lineup, and when he did it was typically in the final pairing.
“I think it was a numbers game here, too,” he said. “Their top four play 25 (minutes) a night. It’s pretty obvious when you’re a young guy trying to come in and develop that’s kind of hard.”
In search of salary cap space, the Wild traded Reilly to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft. Reilly had two goals among 10 points in 38 games and carried a $725,000 cap hit, of which the Wild were relieved.
DUBY’S THE MAN
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau went right back to Devan Dubnyk against the Canadiens after the goaltender allowed three goals on seven shots in Friday’s 7-2 blowout loss at Edmonton. Over his previous six starts, Dubnyk was 1-4 with a 4.36 goals-against average and .837 save percentage.
“He’s our guy. If he doesn’t play better than that, we’re in for a long year,” Boudreau said. “We’ve got to get him playing good.”
Returning to Minnesota reunited Dubnyk with goalie coach Bob Mason, who did not make the trip to Western Canada.
Theirs is a symbiotic relationship with Dubnyk playing a unique position Mason understands, having spent eight seasons in the NHL. Mason can be a truth teller, sounding board and sympathetic ear.
“Mase is a coach, but he’s a friend and he knows me. We’ve been together a lot,” Dubnyk said. “There’s a lot of trust there. If you want to say you’ve been (terrible) or you want to vent about something, you can just have a conversation with him and it doesn’t need to be outside of anyone but you and him.”
“So you can just have a conversation confidential and air it out. Sometimes that just feels good to do, because you can’t do that with everybody.”
Mikko Koivu’s absence because of a left leg injury meant winger Charlie Coyle was elevated to center Minnesota’s second line with Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter.
Coyle has pivoted between center and wing most of his career with the Wild, so there is familiarity with the position. And extra motivation. Coyle was held without a goal in his previous five games.
Boudreau believes Coyle will be more involved because he is in the two-way position.
“He actually skates much more when he’s at center, which we like, so it was an easy decision to put him back in the middle,” Boudreau said. “Big bodies like to skate to keep going. He’s a big guy that when he’s in the middle he’s doing a lot more skating and seems to be involved a lot more.”
Meanwhile, Boudreau shook u his top two defense pairings again, reuniting Matt Dumba with Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin with Jared Spurgeon.
“We haven’t been too successful, so when things aren’t going right you have to make changes,” Boudreau said.