“If you’re going to have success, you have to win games different ways,” Wild head coach Mike Yeo said. “You’re going to need different guys to contribute at different times.”
Granlund emerged as the Wild’s second line center when Charlie Coyle went down with an injury early in the season. Granlund hasn’t looked back since. Granlund had a five-game point streak, racking up seven points and had a plus-5 rating during the stretch -- he is a plus-7 in the month of November. He’s now quarterbacking the second power play unit and killing penalties.
“He’s earned it with the way that he’s played five-on-five,” Yeo said. “It shows he’s a smart player, shows he’s a detailed player and obviously he has the speed and a good stick.”
Granlund had a rough rookie season; whether that was due to his game needing patience for the NHL size and speed, or possibly the lockout fiasco that resulted in no training camp and being rushed into a shortened season; maybe he never found chemistry with Devin Setoguchi out of the gate as they were both demoted to the fourth line and then eventually Granlund was sent down to the Houston Aeros. Nevertheless, his second season has been night and day different than last year as he continues to grow game after game.
Quietly, Nino Niederreiter has been everything the Wild hoped for went they traded fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck for Niederreiter in return. Niederreiter had three points in 64 career games with the New York Islanders; he has 11 points in 21 games with the Wild.
Granlund fulfilling the second line center role allowed Coyle to rejoin the first line at right wing with captains Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, which was a successful line that carried the team last season.
It’s no surprise Coyle’s return for the Wild on November 1st is when the hot streak started. Parise had a four-game point streak, which started in Coyle’s first game back and Parise has tallied nine points -- four goals and five assists -- in the Wild’s eight November games.
Parise has recorded a shot on goal in 233 straight regular season games, longest current streak in the NHL. Parise's 34 career shootout goals rank 1st in the league and his .466 shootout shooting percentage is third among top-20 active scorers.
Koivu only had one goal in October, but since Coyle’s return, Koivu also has nine points -- three goals and six assists -- this month. The Wild’s top trio carried the Wild in their most recent 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night. Koivu scored both goals, including the game winning goal late into the third period on a setup from, whom else, Coyle.
It hasn’t been all gravy for Coyle, however, as he has been very hard on himself since his return. Coyle was not happy with the way he played against the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this month and responded with a three-game point streak of his own, including a game-winning goal against the Florida Panthers on Friday night.
Oh, by the way, the Wild are also the second best defensive team in the NHL, led by Ryan Suter who leads the league in ice time. Jonas Brodin suffered a jaw injury and hasn’t looked as dominating this season compared to last year, zero points since the injury. Fortunately for the Wild, others have stepped up.
Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella are turning into a top second pairing in the NHL. Few years back, the Wild were expecting these two guys to become their top pairing, but with the signing of Suter and rookie sensation Brodin, it has allowed the two to grow naturally.
“Very consistent on both sides of the puck defending, very strong at both ends,” Yeo said about Spurgeon. “Where we see the growth in his game is some of us opening it up to him.
It’s great that we’ve given him more opportunity and he’s showed us what he’s capable of.”
Scandella has been equally good and is a plus-9 in his past 15 games since he was a healthy scratch three consecutive games.
“He’s a great story for us right now. When you got a guy playing that well, a young kid, he’s not playing like a young kid,” Yeo said. “He’s playing a very mature, confident game, stride for stride with the fastest guys in the league.”
And then there’s the goalie. Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last season and played in just five regular season games before being thrown into the starting role in the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks when Niklas Backstrom was injured in warm-ups before game one.
Harding is 10-0-0 at home with 1.15 GAA and has allowed one or fewer goals in 12 of 17 games this season. It’s a remarkable story for the 29-year-old Canadian. He’s 9-0-2 in his last 11 overall, and 12-2-2 this season with 1.25 GAA.
Harding was named the NHL’s No. 2 Star of the Week for his efforts this past week.
Backstrom is injured this season for the second time; this time with an upper body injury that most believe is a concussion.
The Wild’s schedule is about to get a ton more difficult and the Wild might need to sign another goalie, which was first reported by Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Even if Backstrom is able to comeback, it’s not like he’s in mint condition right now and with 61 games left to play, they probably don’t want to ride Harding into the ground night after night.
Many believe Jose Theodore would be a likely option. Theodore has been in the Wild’s organization recently and is a veteran that would make the most sense for a role in a trio of goalies.
The Wild have points in eight straight games (7-0-1) for the first time since Oct. 21, 2007 (7-0-1). Also, they have 30 points in 21 games, which is a franchise record. However, six of their eight games this month have been against the Eastern Conference, which is getting demolished by the Western Conference. The Wild have yet to play, the now slumping, Colorado Avalanche and division powerhouse St. Louis Blues.
They are now headed on a four-game road trip, leaving with a 3-3-2-road record. The road trip ends in St. Louis. This is a big test for the hottest team in hockey.
David Brown is the Minnesota Correspondent for The Fourth Period.