GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's one step forward, one step back when it comes to the Phoenix Coyotes' injury situation.
The Coyotes will have defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson back in the lineup Thursday for an important game against the Minnesota Wild. Ekman-Larsson missed the past two games after a hit from behind by Derek MacKenzie of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 2. MacKenzie was suspended for three games for the hit, which led to an upper-body injury.
"We missed his smarts and puck movement and he will bring some energy. He's a top player for us," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "It was interesting in practice [Wednesday], it looked like the rest has done him some good. He has a lot of energy and you could tell before the injury that it was down a little bit. We rely on that a lot."
As Ekman-Larsson returns, Phoenix will be without center Kyle Chipchura against the Wild. Chipchura sustained a lower-body injury during a 6-0 win Tuesday against the Calgary Flames and will miss his first game this season. Tim Kennedy, a healthy scratch for the past two games, will replace Chipchura on the fourth line.
Backup goalie Thomas Greiss recorded the first shutout of the season for the Coyotes on Tuesday, but starter Mike Smith is back against the Wild. The two teams are tied for the final Western Conference playoff spot with 51 points, but Phoenix has three games in hand.
Smith has three wins in his past 18 starts. He was named to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and has spent the last few days working hard with Phoenix goalie coach Sean Burke.
"[Smith] is our No. 1 guy and when you go into a game of this importance we think he should be the goaltender in there," Tippett said. "I think it was good for him with all the emotion around the Olympic situation to take a step back. He's had a couple of good days of work with Burkie and hopefully that pays off."
For Minnesota, defenseman Jonathon Blum will make his Wild debut Thursday. Blum played 91 games over the past three seasons with the Nashville Predators before signing as a free agent this past summer. He played 34 games with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League this season.
Blum will take the place of Keith Ballard. Ballard was a minus-12 in a 17-game stretch before being scratched Jan. 2 against Buffalo. He had one assist in the past two games.
"By no way are we giving up on him," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "We'll work him and try to get him back."
Here is a look at how the Wild and Coyotes could line up Thursday: