Eric Staal and the Minnesota Wild face the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
The Minnesota Wild are getting the type of offense from their defensemen that Los Angeles Kings interim coach Willie Desjardins hopes to see from his new team.
Desjardins will get an up-close look at Minnesota's style of play when the Kings (5-8-1) host the Wild on Thursday night at Staples Center, the second game for Desjardins since his was hired by Los Angeles last weekend.
The Wild (8-4-2) are second in the NHL in goals scored by their defensemen with 14, and they lead the league in the percentage of goals scored by their defensemen at 32.6.
Ryan Suter is tied for the Minnesota lead with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists), Matt Dumba has scored five goals, tied for second among NHL defensemen, and Jared Spurgeon has eight points (three goals, five assists), which is more than Kings center Anze Kopitar, the team's leading point scorer 10 of the past 11 seasons.
Desjardins, who was hired shortly after John Stevens was fired after 18 months as head coach, said he'd like to take advantage of the offensive abilities of his defensemen.
"We can get our D moving more," he said.
The Wild could be short-handed at forward.
Eric Staal missed the 4-3 loss at the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night because of an illness, ending a streak of 335 straight appearances.
Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters on Wednesday that Staal would likely take a commercial flight to Los Angeles later Wednesday night in hopes of feeling strong enough to play against the Kings.
Staal is tied for second on the team with five goals and alone in fourth with 11 points.
"To me, he'd have to feel really good (Wednesday night) and have a real good morning skate to feel strong enough to go, so I would say he's questionable," Boudreau said.
Another Wild center, Matt Hendricks, returned against San Jose after missing the previous seven games with a lower-body injury, but he took a maintenance day on Wednesday to nurse some bumps and bruises.
Boudreau said the team would likely recall a player from Iowa of the American Hockey League if Staal and Hendricks are unable to play against Los Angeles.
The Kings lost to the Wild 4-1 in Minnesota on Oct. 25, the final defeat in a six-game losing streak that likely played a big role in the dismissal of Stevens.
Los Angeles has since won three of four and scored four goals in each of the wins, something they accomplished just once in the first 10 games.
Desjardins said one of the keys to sustaining offense is rolling four forward lines.
"I think that's the best way to play," he told reporters after a 4-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks in his team debut Tuesday night. "If we can roll four, we can stay fresh and we can play hard. It's an adjustment for the guys, too. Not only do I adjust to the team, all of a sudden they get somebody doing different things, and it's a little bit hard for them right away, too."