Breakthrough goal provides Wild’s Nino Niederreiter sense of relief
ANAHEIM, Calif. Nino Niederreiter wasnt sure it was a goal.
But when Wild linemate Zach Parise started to celebrate and Niederreiter spotted the puck lodged deep in the net, he knew.
His 27-game scoreless skid was over.
It was just a relief, waiting, he said. I kind of totally forgot how to score goals, so I finally got a way to get a goal in.
The timing of Niederreiters goal was spot on, as he put in motion a 3-1 rally over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. But how he scored was also key because it underscored his blueprint for success using his 6-foot-2, 218-pound frame to post up in the crease.
Thats where my bread and butter is, in front of the net, he said. Ive just got to get there, and hopefully pucks are starting to find me more and more and try to get my shot off when I can and just go to the net.
Even when he struggled to convert, Niederreiter was still reporting to the blue paint.
Since he wasnt getting rewarded for it, though, the lack of production started to take its toll mentally.
Thats the toughest thing, staying positive in those moments, Niederreiter said. But it makes it a lot easier that weve been doing well, and as long as the team is winning, it makes it a lot easier. But it was definitely frustrating at some points.
Despite feeling that way, Niederreiter continued to work.
Lately, he had been around the puck racking up three assists in the three games before Thursdays. And he had Bruce Boudreaus trust, with the Wild coach deploying Niederreiter late in that Oct. 30 victory over the Oilers to preserve a one-goal lead.
Effort like that doesnt go unnoticed, and when Niederreiter finally scored, directing in a puck in front on the power play, the entire group seemed to bask in his accomplishment.
Its the sign of a close team when everybody on the bench was screaming his name and was more happy for him than they were for an actual goal, Boudreau said.
Niederreiter ended up next to Parise and captain Mikko Koivu on Thursday after Koivu mentioned to Boudreau recently that the three, a forward unit on the power play, could also be an even-strength trio.
Boudreau agreed, and the switch certainly flattered everyone; not only did Niederreiter climb out of his scoring funk, but Parise had a goal and an assist and Koivu set up three goals.
I thought we did a decent job below the goal line [and] made some plays up ice, Parise said. Power plays been clicking for us. When you get a power-play goal, you feel like 5-on-5 becomes easier. Its a funny thing, but when we were able to get out of the zone, I thought we were getting up the ice pretty clean.
The first goal against the Kings was the seventh by the Wilds power play over the past six games; those seven goals since Oct. 27 ranked first in the NHL, while the units 30.4 percent efficiency during that span sat third a consistency the team attributes to everyone on both units settling into their roles.
Were starting to figure out what our outs are, what our options are, and were shooting, Parise said. Were getting shots, and were getting ugly ones. So its something for us to build off of.
Zero to 100
Joel Eriksson Ek skated in his 100th NHL game Friday vs. Anaheim, and the center reached the milestone still seeking his first goal and point of the season. He quickly got it, getting an assist on Jordan Greenways goal in the opening minutes of the Wilds 5-1 victory over the Ducks.
You cant have a third-line center with no points, Boudreau said. It just doesnt work in this league. Hes never going to be, I dont think, a 40-goal scorer. But at the same time, as hard as he works and as well as he forechecks and as good as a penalty killer he is, we need some production out of him.
He knows it; sometimes he puts a little too much pressure on himself. But right now, I just keep throwing him out there. [He] keeps playing his 14 minutes a night, and hopefully just like Nino he bangs one in and all of a sudden fortunes change for him.