Charlie Coyle hadn’t been on the ice with his Wild teammates in four weeks and five days when he skated at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday ahead of the game against Philadelphia.
The center suffered a broken right leg Oct. 12 against the Blackhawks in Chicago and had surgery, involving some hardware, to reset his fibula. Or as Coyle says, “I’m bionic now.”
Coyle said he skated on his own Monday and once last week as well. And while the initial diagnosis was he’d miss six to eight weeks, Coyle was hesitant to put a timetable on his recovery schedule.
“I just want to make sure I’m 100 percent,” Coyle said. “You don’t want anything to linger throughout the season, through the rest of it. So I’m just taking it step by step and making small improvements every day, it feels like, and getting more comfortable with it. So we’ll see when the time comes.”
Coyle said he’s been feeling really good recently and was even surprised the first time back on the ice with how easy it felt from the start.
“It’s just getting stronger on his leg,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of Coyle’s next step. “I mean, he looks pretty good out there. I don’t think we have any timetable right now. I think when he feels ready to play, he’ll let us know. I’m sure the doctor will have some say. It’s more up to those two right now.”
The weird part about Coyle’s injury was that he didn’t realize how bad it was right away, since he said he took a “way harder” hit earlier in the year and was fine. But once he stood up and skated two strides after absorbing teammate Jared Spurgeon’s slapshot, he knew something was wrong.
And the defenseman hasn’t even apologized or bought Coyle dinner to make it up to him yet, Coyle said. So maybe Spurgeon is a double agent, taking out his own squad one by one.
“He’s going after everyone right now. Sniper,” Coyle joked. “He was very upset. I was like, ‘It’s not your fault, you know. I shouldn’t be standing there.’ ”
Zucker’s zest on new line
Last season, winger Jason Zucker played on the Wild’s most productive line alongside center Mikko Koivu and winger Mikael Granlund. And while that line was red hot in 2016-17, combining Koivu’s defense with Granlund’s playmaking and Zucker’s speed, it didn’t start this season with quite the same verve.
So on the most recent four-game road trip, Boudreau switched it up, putting Zucker alongside center Eric Staal and winger Nino Niederreiter.
The shift seems to have worked, as Zucker entered Tuesday’s game with six goals in the past three games. He also had an assist on Staal’s goal in the first game of the road swing.
“That’s what happens when you get on a line with Eric Staal, good things happen,” Zucker said Monday. “We’ve been trying to just play hard and use our speed and use our assets to our advantage and been trying to battle and just try to win games, really. And we’ve been around the net a lot as a line, had a lot of good chances. And for me, they just happen to go in. But those guys have been a big part of it as well.”
Combining Zucker with Staal and Niederreiter created a speedy line of good skaters and big bodies. Boudreau said when pairing “two of the best skaters” together in Staal and Zucker, “it usually works out.”
“We’ve played 16 games. [Zucker has] had some downsides. That’s why I, obviously, took him off that line for a reason,” Boudreau said. “But he’s found some great chemistry with Eric, and we’ll keep him on there for a while, see how it goes.”
Dubnyk clipping along
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk earned his first shutouts of the season in back-to-back games to end the road trip. And that pattern is something he’s hoping he and the team can perpetuate.
“You’ve just got to take it as another game. I know it’s the cliché answer, but especially the way the stretches have gone, the way the season has gone, that’s really how you get into a roll in the season is forgetting about previous games, wins and losses,” Dubnyk said Saturday ahead of his start.
“We remember last year when we got things rolling how we did it, and it was by keeping level heads and preparing properly for each game.”
But with Dubnyk on such a roll as of late, stopping 73 shots in the past two games, Boudreau said he hasn’t been speaking to his netminder, not wanting to mess with whatever juju Dubnyk’s got going.
“It’s nice to get into a bit of a rhythm and get some results,” Dubnyk said. “I’ve been feeling pretty good in the net all year, but the results weren’t really there, so that doesn’t really help or make you feel good. So it’s nice to get a couple good results. … So we’ll try to keep it in the positive frame for sure.”