For most of last year, the Minnesota Wild could count on reliable production from the "second" line.
"Second" is in quotations because the unit made up of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno was anything but secondary in its dominance last season. Amongst line combinations with over 250 minutes together, that line was third in expected goals share (65.69 percent), sixth in on-ice goals for percentage (67.93) and 14th in shots on goal for percentage (53.06) according to Evolving-Hockey. When your "second" line is in amongst names like the Colorado Avalanche’s top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog, the Toronto Maple Leafs power trio of Matthews, Marner, and Hyman; and the top line of the Vegas Golden Knights led by Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, you know you have a winner.
With some forward additions coming into the season, the roster was due for a shakeup, which meant, at least for the time being, a breakup of the beloved GREEF line. While Foligno and Eriksson Ek have excelled away from their usual linemates, Greenway has struggled, tallying just three assists in his first 17 games.
On Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the dismal Arizona Coyotes, Greenway finally broke through after stringing together a collective of impressive games, scoring his first of the year and netting two assists. The production of his entire season to date, in a single game.
off the point shot, the puck hits greenway (and maybe rask) and finds its way to the net.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 1, 2021
3-1 wild on greenways first of the year! pic.twitter.com/5uZacx1rsK
But the lack of production wasn't bothering the 24-year-old winger, as he felt like he was contributing on the ice, even if the scoresheet wasn't reflecting that.
"I'm pretty patient when it comes to production on the scoresheet," Greenway explained in his post-game availability following the win over the Coyotes. "Mentally, I don't think it was getting to me as much as you would think. I really focus on trying to do the right things, whether it's game twenty or game one. I believe they'll come."
Reunited with his old running mates of Eriksson Ek and Foligno, the trio dominated with a 68.65 percent of the expected goals share, and three actual goals scored between them. While Greenway was pretty calm about finally scoring his first of the year, Foligno was likely excited enough for the two of them.
"He's been playing really well the past couple of games," Foligno recounted. "He deserved a couple tonight and definitely a couple in the past game. He's just so big for our team when he's going; you can't stop a guy like that. It adds another element to our game. Tonight we really didn't have it in the first. He stepped up and played a great game for us."
Despite being 6-foot-6 and 231 lbs, Greenway doesn't always lead the team physically on the ice. Calen Addison, the promising defenseman playing as a forward in the game, actually led the team in hits in the win. That isn't to diminish his skill, of which Greenway has plenty.
"He's so big that people expect him to hit every time he forechecks," Foligno spoke glowingly of his teammate. "He has a lot more skill than that. It's just trying to find that balance. He's been playing awesome, and when he uses his physicality, his height, his reach advantage, it's so tough. It's so easy for me and Ek to read off him in the o-zone because he wins battles, and he got rewarded tonight because of it."
With Greenway playing as well as one could hope, it releases a lot of pressure off of the other lines in the roster, allowing them the time and space to produce. If head coach Dean Evason keeps the unit together, it's easy to see how the rest of the dominoes fall in place and help the Minnesota Wild continue their four-game winning streak — five straight at home — as long as the line produces.
Evason spoke to how Greenway's play has helped foster this string of solid play from the team in his post-game presser. "It's probably been a month he's played like that," Evason said. "He's gotten better and better, and he got rewarded with a goal and two assists. It's great, he got rewarded, but I don't think it mattered. Maybe it did in the past, but he didn't care. Having said that, it's fun to score goals."
Fun or not, Greenway is hoping this burst of production leads to even more points;
"Hopefully, the floodgates are open."
We hope so, too, Jordan.
All stats and figures via NaturalStatTrick.com unless otherwise noted.