ST. PAUL — Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has been pushing all the right buttons the past couple of weeks, with perhaps the biggest move coming when he promoted skilled winger Kevin Fiala to the top line for the final 20 minutes of regulation against the Dallas Stars last week.
What started as more of a hunch than anything else — Boudreau said he thought Fiala’s speed might pair well alongside Eric Staal and opposite Zach Parise — has worked out better than he imagined.
The top line has combined for 10 points over the past couple of games and doesn’t appear to be slowing down heading into Thursday’s home game against the New York Rangers.
“They are excited to play,” Boudreau said. “I think when guys have success, they can’t wait for their next shift. That’s the way it is. They are doing well, and quite frankly, I hope it never ends.”
To say Fiala has been the straw that stirs the drink would be an understatement. He entered Thursday on a five-game point streak that predates his promotion to the top line, and he looks like a threat to score literally every time he touches the puck.
“I’m very excited when I have the puck when I’m on the ice,” Fiala said. “Just try to do something out there to help the team.”
His linemates have noticed.
“He has great energy and a lot of confidence, and we just want to continue that,” Staal said. “I think guys are smart enough to know when guys are feeling good to get them the puck a little bit more.”
“I think we have had some good chemistry throughout the seasons when we have played together,” Parise added. “We were split up for a little while, and I think we picked up where we left off.”
As Fiala’s star has continued to rise, Parise has been finding the net with more regularity while Staal has lagged a bit.
Not that Boudreau is too concerned.
“He’s been doing it for 15 years,” the coach said of Staal. “His history tells me that eventually he’s just going to break out of it and get a good run here before the season’s over, and I assume he’s going to.”
A few weeks after Boudreau begged someone to get the Wild on a roll, goaltender Alex Stalock has stepped up and done just that.
He has been the most reliable option between the pipes over the past month, which explains why he got the nod over fellow goaltender Devan Dubnyk for Thursday’s game.
“This time of the season, ask any athlete and the first word they probably say is fun,” Stalock said. “You’re playing really, really meaningful games, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
That said, Stalock is rooting as hard for Dubnyk as for himself.
“You need both guys (in net) at this time of the season,” Stalock said. “No matter who’s in there on any given night, it’s a chance to give our team a chance to win the game. It happens to be me tonight. Just get in there and put pressure on myself to get it done.”
Special teams boost
A couple of weeks after a poor effort on special teams in a 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Wild are starting to get back on track in that department.
They are 8 for 17 (47%) on the power play and 16 for 20 (80%) on the penalty kill since the Bruins debacle.
“It’s special teams that make the difference,” Boudreau said. “It’s that one power play or that one penalty kill that at an opportune time that wins or loses the game.”
That was evident Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, which the Wild won 4-0 after going 3 for 5 on the power play and 4 for 4 on the penalty kill.
“For us, the penalty kill has been a key for keeping the score down in the games,” Stalock said. “We play a good defensive game. The thing that’s kind of set us back kind of consistently, I guess, has been our penalty kill. You look against (Vegas), they were 0 for 4 and we got the job done.”