The Minnesota Wild has received contributions from up and down the lineup on their way to 1st place in the Western Conference. However, key to the bounce back season has been the ability of veterans to turn their play around.
Flashback to a year ago, Mike Yeo was fired, much was made of the apparent rift in the locker room between the older and younger players on the team, and the performance of many vets on the team was lacking. So what actually happened to change things this season?
First, I don’t think it can be overstated the influence Boudreau has had on this current group. Even when players are not putting up points, as both Zach Parise and Jason Pominville have at times, they still work hard and are generating good scoring chances while playing strong defense. In the past, the performance at both ends of the ice would have suffered if shots weren’t going in. But this group just keeps working hard and doing the right thing. It has shown in their ability to come from behind to win games.
Feb 1, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu (9) during the third period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Second, and this might be an extension of Boudreau’s impact, the fluidity of the lineup has meant increased contributions from everyone. Aside from Mikko Koivu, players have shuffled up and down the lineup. Jordan Schroeder has played on the top line and responded with 2 points. Chris Stewart has 11 goals mainly in a fourth line role. The coach has made it simple, if you play well, you’re going to get rewarded with more playing time. And that is something the players have responded to. It keeps top line players from becoming too complacent and third and fourth line players from thinking they are inferior to the top line guys.
Finally, the impact Devan Dubnyk has had on this team cannot be overstated. He leads the league in GAA and save percentage. When the offense started off the season slow, it was the play of Dubnyk which kept the team winning games. Should he continue to put up such stellar numbers, expect him to be a major contender for the Vezina Trophy at the end of the year.
Feb 4, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) awaits the start of play against the Vancouver Canucks before the start the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Compare that to his standing at the start of the year when the goalie was coming off a season in which he had a rather pedestrian (by his standards) 2.32 GAA and was even more mediocre in the playoffs. It was fair to wonder whether the Wild had made a mistake in giving Dubnyk the long term contract they did. Fast forward to February and that contract looks among the best values in the league.
The Wild have been successful for many reasons this year. But the work put in by Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and the players themselves has paid off. Key contributions from the team’s veterans are a major reason why this team sits in first place in the conference.