ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter perhaps would have wanted to be playing better, and to have his Wild team playing better, to impress his old team a bit more. But the 21-year-old Niederreiter, traded from the Islanders to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck on draft day in June, is still quite content where he is and how things worked out.
"It's an emotional game for sure," Niederreiter said Sunday morning. "I got drafted there, spent quite some time there, so it'll be emotional for me. [But I'm] just trying to play my game. That's it. Emotional game, but I have to play my game and we have to come out with a win."
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Niederreiter began Sunday night's game in a spot he never got a crack at during his two seasons with the Islanders: On the top line, playing left wing with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle.
He was on the top line because of an injury to Zach Parise, but Niederreiter has gotten his shot to play top-six minutes in his first season with the Wild. Both player and team have struggled to score goals, however. The Wild entered Sunday night's game with two wins in eight games and had more goals than only four other teams.
Niederreiter had just one goal in his prior 16 games before he scored his seventh goal early in the second period Sunday night.
"We're counting on him to score goals," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I do believe there's another level to get to. I'm very pleased with his defensive game. He's a very responsible player now, he's playing better without the puck, he's in a better position on the ice, he's playing less off instincts and he's showing he's maturing as a player."
Niederreiter said he holds no ill will toward Islanders GM Garth Snow, even though Andre Rufner, Niederreiter's agent, went public with a trade demand after Niederreiter was not invited to the shortened Islander training camp last January. After playing most of the 2011-12 season on the fourth line and with limited minutes, Niederreiter posted one point, a goal, and a minus-29 rating in 55 games; he spent the entire 2012-13 season in Bridgeport, never saying anything negative publicly while scoring 28 goals and 50 points with the Sound Tigers.
Snow was determined to deal Niederreiter, the fifth pick in the 2010 draft. After offering him around the league, Snow made the deal with Minnesota, and Niederreiter appreciated the chance to come to camp with an opportunity to win a job, which he did in fairly short order.
"I wish it could have worked out there," Niederreiter said. "I played my first games there, I like a lot of people there. But I think this was for the best."
Notes & quotes: Michael Grabner (illness) and Josh Bailey (upper body) both missed Sunday night's game. The two linemates recently had started to play better after going long stretches without doing much -- Grabner snapped a 31-game goal drought last week and Bailey has gone 28 games without a goal. Bailey crashed hard into the boards in the third period of Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Devils and did not return; Grabner played through being sick on Saturday but did not have enough energy for the back-to-back games . . . Tavares returned after missing one game, pronouncing himself ready to go after taking part in the team's morning skate here. "It's a matter of can I make it worse, and the medical staff doesn't feel I can," he said. "I didn't feel it at all out there this morning." Tavares made sure to point out the injury occurred when Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas pulled Tavares down after the whistle during the Dec. 17 game, a play Tavares called "friggin' dirty" that night. Those two teams meet again Jan. 16 in Tampa... Kevin Poulin made his first start in net since Dec. 12... Former Islander Zenon Konopka was a healthy scratch for the Wild.