Wild’s Mikael Granlund finding his rhythm after early injuries
NASHVILLE – A three-day timeout from hockey certainly looks like it galvanized Wild winger Mikael Granlund — what with four goals, including a hat trick and game-winner Friday, and seven more shots on goal Saturday among his contributions since the Wild reconvened after the Christmas break.
But distancing himself from the early-season groin injury that kept Granlund out of commission for five games, rather than recent rest, might be the best explanation for his rejuvenation.
“He was injured when he came into camp, and then he got injured in camp,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It takes a while to get better. I think he’s better now.”
It certainly looked like it took time for Granlund to find his groove after his return from injury; he scored just once in his first 13 games back while averaging around two shots per game. But in the three games before the holiday hiatus, he had at least three shots on goal each game while chipping in an assist.
When the Wild resumed play Wednesday against the Stars, Granlund again had three shots — this time earning the game-winning goal while adding an assist. Against the Predators Friday, he more than doubled his output when he tied his career high with seven shots. And the 25-year-old was rewarded for the effort with his second career hat trick, a performance that was reminiscent of the impact he had last season when he recorded a career-best 26 goals.
“You could tell [Friday] night he was on, and it was like on a string and he wanted the puck all the time,” Boudreau said. “That’s the way he was all last year.”
Granlund hit that seven-goal mark again Saturday, but he and the Wild didn’t score in a 3-0 loss.
After getting clipped by an errant puck in the third period Friday, Boudreau was still sporting a bandage on his head Saturday.
“I’m fine,” he said.
Boudreau received seven stitches, but he was patched up in time to return to the bench for the end of the game.
“They were quick,” he said. “I was trying to dodge, watching the game at the same time.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon has rejoined Ryan Suter on the top pair, a change Boudreau made to keep the units on special teams and 5-on-5 play consistent since the plan was to have the two work together on the power play and penalty kill.
“I just thought it was time,” he said.
The reunion, which means Matt Dumba now pairs with Jonas Brodin, coincides with cleaner defensive play from the entire blue line; after keeping the league-leading Lightning scoreless for nearly 58 minutes last Saturday, the Wild has surrendered just two goals in each of its ensuing two games.
“They’re moving the puck and what they’re doing especially for us is shooting the puck,” Boudreau said. “When they’re shooting the puck, it creates more offense and we’re not having to play defense as much.”
Wingers Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter skated in Minnesota Saturday and are scheduled to do so again Sunday.
Boudreau believes Parise will be able to practice with the team Monday and is hoping Niederreiter will be able to, as well, as both work toward a return — Parise from back surgery and Niederreiter from a lower-body injury that required him to wear a boot.
“I think there’s a chance that both of them will play next week,” Boudreau said. “As to what date they’re going to come in or do you want to put them in at the same time — you might want to stagger them a little bit — I don’t know. We’ll have to figure that out.”
• Defenseman Gustav Olofsson returned to the lineup Saturday, his first game since he suited up Dec.12 against the Flames.
“You sit a guy out for eight games, you gotta get him back in. and what better place than a back-to-back,” Boudreau said.
• This is the only home-and-home set in back-to-back nights the Wild plays this season.