We are officially in 2018 and that means the NHL regular season is roughly halfway over. Teams are beginning to smell the postseason, whereas wild card teams and those on the outside are feeling the pressure for a playoff push. This is where the Minnesota Wild fit in — they own the final wild-card spot with a game in hand over the Anaheim Ducks.
Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Devin Dubnyk and Marcus Foligno, among others, have spent time on the injury list this season. The Wild got a much-needed boost with Zach Parise making his season debut on Tuesday and Nino Niederreiter returning on Thursday, leaving Minnesota with a complete roster for the first time in the 2017-18 season.
Zach Parise’s Return to Action
The most important thing gained from Parise was depth. On Tuesday against the Florida Panthers, he played on the third line with Chris Stewart and Charlie Coyle. Parise played a total of 13:35 minutes and tallied three shots on his return. He was able to control the puck and keep it in the offensive zone. He was also hit a couple of times but managed to finish the game with no issues.
In his second game, he mustered another three shots and tallied an assist. He did have a shot at a second assist, but Jonas Brodin forced an extra pass on a two-on-one. Parise looked sharp in his first two contests and this team should benefit moving forward with his presence on the roster.
Parise is still the heart and soul of the Wild – every time he laces his skates he hustles unlike anyone else on the team. His experience includes a run to the Stanley Cup Final back in the 2011-12 season, when his the New Jersey Devils lost to the Los Angeles Kings. Zach Parise is already third all-time in Minnesota Wild franchise history for goals (124), ninth in assists (128), and fifth in points (252). He brings energy to a team that has sorely missed it.
Nino Niederreiter Back in the Lineup
Niederreiter returned on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres netting three goals before the end of the second period. In total, Nino played 12 minutes with four shots and one of his three goals coming on the power play.
His presence fueled an offensively dominate line also featuring Mikko Koivu (one goal, two assists) and Mikael Granlund (zero goals, three assists.) Niederreiter has now tallied 13 goals and six assists in 30 games this season. The Minnesota Wild are clearly a better team when he is in the lineup and his shiny new contract looks better every time he steps on the ice.
Devan Dubnyk has come under heavy criticism this year for the amount of goals he has let in. He’s currently sitting with a 2.57 GAA, the worst of his short career in Minnesota. His save percentage currently resides at .920, good enough for the second-worst output of his Minnesota career. Dubnyk shouldn’t be blamed for these numbers as Chuck Fletcher shipped off Marco Scandella to Buffalo in the offseason. Jared Spurgeon has also spent time on the injury list, severely hurting the team’s defense. With healthy forwards, the Wild should be spending more time in the offensive zone going forward.
One of the reasons Dubnyk has had a rough start to the season is because the Wild have had a bad habit of letting the opposing team score the first goal of the game. Minnesota is not built to score heavily, but to play clean hockey. Playing without the lead has thrown the team off their game and forced hurried passes.
The defense has let down Dubnyk more than a few times this season – they’ve been forced to step up and take some of the offensive pressure off the forwards, sometimes leaving the defensive end exposed. Due to injuries, the Wild have failed to have much of an offensive threat. However, the tide seems to be turning, allowing everyone to play true to their game. Dubnyk, more than anyone, will benefit greatly from the return of Parise and Niederreiter.