Wild hope move to center sparks something in Mikael Granlund
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Wild eased into their eight-game, mid-winter break on a three-game winning streak that included consecutive road wins and victories over good teams from Vegas and Columbus. Since then, it’s been something of a disaster.
The Wild fly east for weekend games in New Jersey and Brooklyn on a string of four consecutive losses (0-2-2) and knowing they’ll be without veteran center Mikko Koivu for the rest of the season because of knee surgery scheduled for Friday, Feb. 8. So, there is a lot that needs to change for a team that fully expects to make the NHL postseason for the seventh consecutive season.
Foremost among them, coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday, is getting forward Mikael Granlund back on track.
“To me, the No. 1 thing we have to do is get Granlund playing the way he’s capable of playing, because he’s sort of the straw that stirs the drink up front,” Boudreau said after a spirited practice Friday at TRIA Rink. “When he’s going, everybody else is going.”
To that end, Granlund was moved to center between wingers Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise, where he’ll play in a 1 p.m. puck drop against the Devils at Prudential Center on Saturday.
“We’ve got to find a way, and if we have to move him around to find the right combination, we just hope it’s not too late,” Boudreau said.
The Wild have nine games before the Feb. 25 trade deadline and would like to convince general manager Paul Fenton they’re worth an addition or two for a postseason run. They woke up Friday in possession of the seventh Western Conference playoff spot despite their recent skid, although they have squandered whatever cushion they had.
Minnesota is two points ahead of the two closest teams in pursuit, and seven ahead of last-place Los Angeles. Before they break, the Wild had won six of their previous road games, including victories against Winnipeg, Toronto and Vegas. But they have dropped their past two, at Dallas and Buffalo -- where they also lost Koivu to a torn ligament and meniscus in his right knee.
“Whether it’s road or home, we’ve got to get going,” Boudreau said.
They’ll likely need help from Granlund, who finished with 69 and 67 points the past two seasons, respectively, with a combined 47 goals. But he has cooled off after a hot start. Between Oct. 13 and Nov. 11, Granlund scored 10 goals among 18 points in 14 games, and the Wild were 10-3-1 in those games.
Since then, Granlund has two goals and 24 assist in 37 games. In Thursday night’s 4-1 loss to Edmonton at Xcel Energy Center, he had no points, took two shots and was on the ice for two goals.
“Honestly, I haven’t been scoring a lot lately, but at the beginning of the season it felt like every single puck was going in,” Granlund said Friday. “So, hopefully it’s going to turn around at some point again.”
Boudreau is hoping playing center will allow Granlund to use his speed and playmaking abilities.
“He’s a natural center,” the coach said. “He played center his whole life until he turned pro, and he can move the puck either way — left, right — and it gives him a little more freedom where he doesn’t have to battle on the wall as much. So, hopefully that’s a good situation.”
That works for Granlund.
“Maybe it gets you skating a little bit more, you know,” he said. “You kind of move around and keep skating and making plays and try to get some free ice and try to find those two other guys from the wing. That’s a fun position to play.”