Wild’s Spurgeon a key component in blue line block party
OTTAWA, Ontario — Jared Spurgeon really wanted to be a goaltender when he was growing up, but his fascination for the bulky pads and colorful masks clouded his better judgment and temporarily interfered with his destiny as an NHL defenseman.
“I loved playing basement goalie,” Spurgeon said Friday, Jan. 4. “My brother (Tyler) stuck me in the net. I liked it a lot. I think I played one game on the ice and that was the end of that.”
Spurgeon’s basement reflexes have come in handy for the Wild, who have benefited mightily from his shot-blocking prowess since he debuted with Minnesota in 2010-11. Thursday’s 4-3 comeback victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs was Exhibit A.
Spurgeon blocked five shots and cleaned up in front of goalie Devan Dubnyk while the Leafs poured on the pressure, turbocharged by a pair of power-play opportunities in the final 10 minutes.
“There’d be a save, and then Spurge would block a shot and then he’d block another one,” said Dubnyk. “He was just right in there with me and we were kind of fighting through it together. That’s what he is. He does a little bit of everything for us. It’s nice to see him get on the board offensively, as well.”
Spurgeon tied the game 3-3 midway through the second period with his fifth goal of the season and he assisted on two others. Perhaps his biggest moment occurred late in the first period when the Wild trailed 2-1.
Toronto superstar Auston Matthews slipped through the back side of the Wild’s defense and had a gaping net in front of him before Spurgeon anticipated the play and knocked Matthews’ shot wide.
Minnesota made it a point of emphasis to lock down Matthews on his strong side after he beat Dubnyk with a backdoor pass from Mitch Marner in Toronto’s 5-3 victory over the Wild on Dec. 1.
“They made a lot of plays backdoor and on the rush,” Spurgeon said. “When I made that play, I just stayed on that side. It was more of a desperation block than anything. Wasn’t sure it was going in, but you don’t want to take that chance.”
Spurgeon ranks third in blocked shots among Wild defensemen with 58 behind Jonas Brodin (60) Nick Seeler (59), and Ryan Suter (59).
Once a novelty, shot-blocking has become a central component to defensive systems. Advances in equipment have made it easier for defensemen and forwards to be fearless when jumping in front of 90-mph slap shots.
“In today’s world, you almost have to have everybody ready and willing to do that job,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’m amazed that so many feet — touch wood — aren’t broken. But the skates are so hard and made of steel compared to the skates when I played, which were leather. They were awful.”
As a 5-foot-9 defender, Spurgeon does not have the sheer muscle to win many battles so relies on his stick and guile to gain inside leverage on forwards and take away their time and space.
Spurgeon reunited with Suter on the top defense pairing after Matt Dumba was lost to a torn chest muscle that will sideline him indefinitely, robbing Minnesota of its most dangerous offensive weapon on the blue line.
Joining the rush and getting pucks to the net is even more important now that Dumba, who had surgery on Dec. 26, is on the mend.
“You can’t really replace Dums with what he does and how versatile he is,” Spurgeon said. “We can all just step up a little more and get a few more shots per game. I think that’ll help.”
Left wing Mikael Granlund did not practice Friday in Ottawa so he could have a “maintenance day,” according to Boudreau. He is expected to play against the Senators on Saturday.