LOS ANGELES – It wasn’t a set play scripted ahead of time.
Defenseman Matt Dumba ended up with the puck because goalie Devan Dubnyk turned aside a slapshot from Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and Dumba was able to redirect in the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Blues on Saturday because center Charlie Coyle’s attempted shot on net veered into the crease.
“Good play by him,” Coyle said. “Give-and-go and going to the net.”
But what was planned was the two-defenseman, one-forward lineup to start the 3-on-3 overtime, a tweak the Wild has made after checking in with its analytics department to help improve the team’s results in the extra period.
“Something had to change, and you just couldn’t put out what you perceived were the best players,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There was obviously a mix that wasn’t working.”
This wasn’t the first time the Wild went with a defense-heavy look to begin overtime.
The team also utilized Dumba and Jonas Brodin — the defensive duo on the ice in that overtime against the Blues — alongside captain Mikko Koivu on Nov. 24 against the Avalanche, an eventual 3-2 shootout win. Before that, the Wild used two forwards (Koivu with Jason Zucker or Mikael Granlund) and one defenseman (Ryan Suter), losing twice in overtime and once in a shootout.
Those struggles, however, predate this season.
Through 35 extra-time games since the NHL adopted a 3-on-3 format ahead of the 2015-16 season, the Wild has lost 17 in overtime and five in a shootout for a 13-22 record — enough of a disparity for Boudreau to search for solutions.
The insight he gathered from the Wild’s analytics team looked at the positions on the ice, but it also relayed the value of speed.
That factor helped the Wild outlast the Blues to snag just its second extra-time win this season in five games, and those additional points could be crucial considering how tightly bunched most of the teams are in the Western Conference.
“You go back and look at last year and the difference between teams that don’t get that extra point and the teams that got that extra point where they were in the standings,” Boudreau said, “it was pretty evident.”
Around the net
Zucker hasn’t sparked another goal streak like the roll he was on in November, when he scored eight in five games, but his productivity hasn’t waned much. He toted a six-game point streak into Tuesday’s game against the Kings and since Nov. 6 — the game before his torrid run began — he’s racked up 15 points in 14 games. Ten of those were goals, which tied for first in the NHL in that span.
Overall, Zucker registered at least a point in 12 of those 14 games.
“He’s around the puck, and he’s got great speed,” Boudreau said. “When you got great speed, anything can happen at a moment’s notice. When you start feeling it and get hot, then all of a sudden everything seems to work for you.”
Defenseman Gustav Olofsson remained out of the lineup, sitting as a healthy scratch for the second straight game Tuesday with Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser continuing to fill out the third pairing.
It looked like Olofsson and Reilly were primed for regular minutes when the team placed veteran Kyle Quincey on waivers last week, but the acquisition of Prosser via waivers has left Olofsson as the odd man out — for now.
“He’s going to get in this trip,” Boudreau said. “We’re not going to let him sit too long, but it’s hard when you win 2-1 and you win the previous game [to] change too much of the lineup.”