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Jugglin’ Hynes

Wild’s new coach isn’t afraid to make changes in order to get desired results.

Wild coach John Hynes has already juggled the team's lines only a few games into his stint as head coach. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

The Wild’s four-game winning streak that followed the dismissal of Dean Evason and hiring of John Hynes as head coach wasn’t surprising considering that type of change often results in an immediate jump start for a struggling team.

The real test comes when the first adversity hits.

The Wild got a taste of that last week after starting a four-game trip with a 5-2 victory in Calgary. The Wild was blanked, 2-0, by Vancouver on Thursday and then lost 4-3 to Edmonton on Friday. That defeat was made worse when stand out defenseman Jonas Brodin suffered an upper body injury that’s expected him to sideline for several weeks.

The losses gave Hynes his first look at the warts on a team that was seven points out of a playoff spot when Evason was jettisoned following a seventh consecutive loss last month. Hynes didn’t hesitate to take action during a day off in Seattle.

He juggled the top two lines, which included breaking up BFFs Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Kaprizov stayed on the top line with a new center (Joel Eriksson Ek) and winger (Matt Boldy), and Zuccarello was put on the second line with center Marco Rossi and Marcus Johansson.

So how did Kaprizov and Zuccarello react to being separated? Very well. The first line accounted for two goals, with Kaprizov assisting on Boldy’s score, and Rossi scored off a beautiful assist from Zuccarello in a 3-0 victory over the slumping Kraken.

That gave the Wild a 5-2 record under Hynes and pulled them within four points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Hynes, in his third stop as an NHL coach, hasn’t done anything revolutionary since arriving in Minnesota, but it’s clear he’s willing to push buttons both when it comes to lineup construction and style.

The Wild are playing more of an uptempo style that is reminiscent of how they operated early on under Evason. An emphasis has been placed on puck movement and getting out of the defensive zone. The decision by general manager Bill Guerin to make a change also seems to have motivated a few players.

The top example is Boldy, who had one goal, eight points and was minus-5 in 12 games under Evason. In seven games under Hynes, Boldy has six goals, eight points and is plus-6. Boldy, who is 6-2, 201 pounds, has played so well of late that Hynes compared him to one of the Wild’s hardest working and best players on Sunday.

Matt Boldy has scored six of his seven goals this season since John Hynes arrived behind the bench. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

“(Boldy’s) such a talented player, but he is playing more and more like Ek in my opinion,” Hynes said. “He’s just a strong, big horse, a two-way player who gets offensive chances. He’s feeling confident for sure, which is nice to see. But his overall game is real strong.”

Hynes knows that comparing Boldy to Eriksson Ek will establish an expectation that means even when Boldy isn’t scoring a bunch, he will be expected to play a 200-foot game. That’s a fair expectation considering Boldy is in the first season of a seven-year, $49 million contract signed last January.

There remain players who need to get going — Johansson has only one goal and 11 points in 26 games in the first season of a two-year, $4 million contract, and Kaprizov only has three even-strength goals in 26 games — but the Wild’s goaltending duo of Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury has looked far better since the coaching change and the emergence of rookie Brock Faber as a top defenseman should help ease the loss of Brodin.

This doesn’t mean the Wild now have an easy path to the postseason. The 5-10-4 start under Evason left the Wild near the bottom of the conference and that means there is still plenty of digging out to do for a team that is now 10-12-4.

But Hynes has been pushing the right buttons and still has 56 regular-season games in which to try to lead his new team into a playoff position. Of course, it was only two weeks ago that the Wild appeared to be checked out on Evason and their season.

That is why Hynes’ greatest challenge remains ahead of him. The immediate jolt of his hire had the desired result and he weathered the first minor storm. Now, can he keep the lethargy that plagued this team at bay? If he does, Hynes could go from his couch to Jack Adams finalist all within the same season.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Mackey and Judd podcast and also Judd’s Hockey Show for SKOR North. Judd covered the Vikings from 2005 to 2010 for the Star Tribune before joining SKOR North.

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