The Wild started Tuesday night’s game in St. Louis, an eventual 6-2 victory, with its entire lineup intact for the third consecutive game, a rarity in the NHL.
There won’t be a fourth. The physical Central Division clash cost the Wild one of its key players, defenseman Jonas Brodin, who suffered a fractured left hand when checked in the second period.
He had surgery Wednesday and is expected to be out until March.
Before the Wild announced the surgery late Wednesday, coach Bruce Boudreau, anticipating the news, said, “You’ve heard it all around the sports world this year: Next guy up. And that’s it.”
Gustav Olofsson will likely move to Brodin’s spot as Matt Dumba’s defensive partner.
The Dumba-Brodin pairing has been noteworthy. Brodin is far and away the Wild’s leader in plus-minus (plus 19), and Dumba is third in the NHL among defensemen with 10 goals.
“They both have really good sticks and are good positionally,” Dumba said. “They’re good skaters. It’s easy for me to play with those kind of guys. And with Olofsson, he’s a big guy. Bigger than Jonas for sure. So when he uses his body and can get that feistiness in his game, he’s a really good player.”
Boudreau has described 23-year-old Olofsson as a “young Brodin,”, even though Brodin is only 17 months older. But the Wild will hope those similarities make for a seamless transition.
Olofsson and fellow defenseman Mike Reilly have traded healthy scratches most of the season after Nate Prosser was picked up on waivers from the Blues on Nov. 30, so this is an opportunity for both to garner some extended playing time.
Reilly, the 24-year-old former Gophers All-America, will likely be paired with Prosser as the third pairing, while the top duo of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon will remain untouched.
Because the team is on a five-game homestand, it won’t immediately call up a defenseman from Iowa.
“All the players on our team are capable of raising their game,” Boudreau said. “And when you rely on them more, they either excel or they fall flat on their face.”
Prosser took a puck to the knee late in the third period of Tuesday’s game, but he was back in practice Wednesday morning. He said he could definitely still feel some pain but that it wouldn’t be enough to keep him from playing.
Which is good, considering Prosser called the loss of Brodin — a “top-four guy” who is a “big centerpiece” of the Wild’s defensive corps — tough.
“We’ve got six of the guys that are capable of doing a job here,” Prosser said. “[Brodin] played a lot of minutes, so I don’t know how it’s going to be fractioned out, but we’ve got be making sure that we’re all kind of picking up the pieces where we can and where we’re capable of. I mean, if it’s [penalty kill], if I can jump in there, got to do a job and take pride in it.”
Minus a few blowouts like the 6-1 drubbing at Dallas on Saturday, the Wild’s defense has been pretty sturdy this season, averaging 2.85 goals allowed per game. And offensively, the defensemen have tallied 127 points in 53 games, which ties them for first in the league with Nashville.
So keeping that momentum going while ensnared in a drag-out Central Division will be imperative for the team’s playoff chances. But luckily for the Wild, it’s used to playing at less than full strength. The three straight games it started with the entire lineup was a season high.
“Every team is going to go through it at some point. Very rarely does one team go unscathed with injuries,” Boudreau said. “We’ve had our fair share, but everyone has had their fair share as well. It’s when they come and how close together they come that sort of gets to you.”
But the Wild has a chance to rack up some points with a five-game homestand; it has one of the better home records in the league at 18-4-4.
“You’ve got to make hay when the sun shines because when we get in March, it gets pretty tough, and our road schedule is pretty tough,” Boudreau said. “You have to take advantage of it when you can. But I mean, it’s not easy to take advantage of it. There’s other teams that want to win. So it’s going to be work.”
Staff writer Sarah McLellan contributed to this story.