ST. PAUL — The Chicago Blackhawks are certainly a familiar foe for the Wild. And even though there are some fresh faces on the roster, the names aren’t really new at all.
There’s Brandon Saad, who began his career with Chicago, won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks then was traded to Columbus, where he spent two seasons.
There’s Patrick Sharp, also a three-time Cup champion with Chicago, who went away to the Dallas Stars for a couple of seasons, only to return this past summer.
Both have played starring roles in Chicago’s red-hot start to the regular season, one that saw the Blackhawks hang 10 goals on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in their season opener.
Video: Prepping for Chicago
“You just look at the boxscores and it’s a big challenge for us,” said Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon. “We have these couple days of practice to fine tune some things and I think that’s what we’ve been trying to do, something different each day and getting back to the way we were playing at the end of last year.”
It’s a small three-game sample size, but so far, Chicago’s boxscores have been impressive.
Saad has four goals and six points. Patrick Kane has two goals and six points. Ryan Hartman has five assists among six points. Richard Panek has three goals and five points. Jonathan Toews is one of two players with two goals and two assists.
Chicago’s 18 goals is second-most in the League behind Toronto (19) and six more than the next best team in the Western Conference. It’s plus-12 goal differential is three better than any team in the NHL.
“They’re not bad. They’ve only scored 18 goals in three games,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. “They’ve got a lot of new faces, though. They can all skate, and they’ve still got some magical players on that team. No matter when you play them, what level of guys that are hurt or whoever, [Blackhawks coach] Joel [Quenneville] pushes the right buttons and they play. They’re very difficult to beat.”
That offense, especially at United Center, will test the Wild early, a group that has uncharacteristically allowed eight goals through two games after being the sixth stingiest team in the League a year ago.
While the gap in the schedule was perhaps viewed negatively a week ago, it has allowed Minnesota to come home for a couple of days, reevaluate some things and try to tighten up in that end of the rink.
“They’ve got some offensive power, so that will naturally want to make us want to make sure we’re playing tight defensively and check well,” said Wild forward Eric Staal. “That’s kind of been our staple here for most of last year was strong defensive hockey to lead offense. Sometimes early in the year, it gets like that for a lot of teams. We’ll tighten it up, we’ll work at here and try to get better for the next game.”
Video: Boudreau discusses preparations for Blackhawks
Granlund out indefinitely
The current hole in the Wild schedule and the one that follows next week has certainly helped ease the pain of being without forward Mikael Granlund, who missed Saturday’s game against Carolina and will be out indefinitely with a groin injury.
Boudreau indicated on Tuesday that he expected Granlund out at least the next four games, including the trip to Chicago, this weekend’s home opener and a quick two-game road trip to Winnipeg and Calgary next weekend.
“It’s a day at a time with him,” Boudreau said.
Zach Parise practiced with the team again on Tuesday, marking the second consecutive day he has done so. Parise, who missed the first two games because of an undisclosed injury, could return as soon as this week if things continue to move in the right direction.
“Whatever the doctors say. You know, Zach is feeling a lot better right now and usually players get so anxious when they feel better,” Boudreau said. “It’s a doctor, trainer thing. It’s not a coach thing. We all wish he was back in the lineup. When he gets the OK to play, we’ll play him.”
Moving on up
In the absences of Granlund and Parise, Marcus Foligno has moved up the lineup.
After starting the season on the third line in Detroit, he was on the second line Saturday in Carolina. On Tuesday, he skated next to Staal and Charlie Coyle on the top line.
Foligno has assisted on two goals through two games and scored a goal in Detroit that was waved off for goaltender interference.
“It’s good to be bumped up. Every line has great players, but to play with Eric Staal, who’s a tremendous goal scorer and good skater, and Charlie Coyle too, that’s an opportunity I don’t want to let slip away,” Foligno said. “You want to have good minutes and be counted on when you’re out there.
“I think my game right now, it’s been consistent, it’s been physical. I just need to keep going in straight lines and get to the net a little more.”