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Wild winger Mats Zuccarello misses Friday’s game against Sabres

Without him in the lineup, Marcus Foligno moved up to the top line, playing alongside Ryan Hartman and opposite Kirill Kaprizov

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Calgary Flames
Minnesota Wild right wing Mats Zuccarello skates against the Calgary Flames during the second period Feb. 26, 2022, at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. — After the Wild’s top line played its best game in recent memory against the Flyers on Thursday in Philadelphia, Mats Zuccarello missed Friday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Without him in the lineup, Marcus Foligno moved up to the top line, playing alongside Ryan Hartman and opposite Kirill Kaprizov.

That set off chain a reaction that resulted in Joel Eriksson Ek centering Brandon Duhaime and Connor Dewar, and Nico Sturm centering Mason Shaw and Nick Bjugstad.

Not surprisingly, coach Dean Evason didn’t touch the combination of Freddy Gaudreau centering Kevin Fiala and Matt Boldy. That line has been extremely successful for the Wild as of late.

As for Matt Dumba (lower-body injury) and Jordan Greenway (upper-body injury), Evason said there’s a chance both return to the lineup Sunday against the Dallas Stars

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“We’ll have the day off tomorrow after a back-to-back, so we wanted them here to skate hard,” Evason said. “Both are real close. You just have to keep evaluating and see how they come out of workouts.”

‘Cranky’ Kaprizov

For all the joy that Kirill Kaprizov brings to the ice, Evason noticed a change in his young star forward during the Wild’s recent slump.

“When we’ve had lack of success, or things haven’t gone our way, he’s a cranky, cranky guy,” Evason said with a smile. “That says a lot, right? He’s not cranky because he’s not scoring goals. He’s cranky because we’re not having success as a team.”

That type of competitive fire has fueled the Wild this season. They haven’t gone through too many rough patches largely because Kaprizov hasn’t let them falter. He entered Friday’s game against the Sabres with 24 goals and 41 assists.

“It’s have that leadership quality where, ‘Just because I’m scoring goals, or I’m having success points-wise, that means nothing,’ ” Evason said. “He was as cranky as anybody. But we all have to continue to do it to continue to have success.”

Defensive breakdowns

There was a particular play in Thursday’s game that provided a coaching moment for young winger Brandon Duhaime.

After turning the puck over, Duhaime astutely filled in for defenseman Jon Merrill with the Flyers racing the other way.

While that was the right move by Duhaime, he immediately followed it up with the wrong move by trying to get back to his original position too soon. That resulted in winger Travis Konecny being left alone in front of the net for an easy goal.

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In that scenario, Duhaime should have have continued to stay back on defense until the play settled down. Only then would it have been OK for Duhaime to switch back with Merrill.

“We did not play defense as a forward group,” Evason said. “We do three-on-three drills down low for those situations. They know what to do. We just missed our responsibility.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILDHOCKEY
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