NEW YORK -- Minnesota Wild center Mikael Granlund will return to the lineup Sunday night against the New York Rangers after missing 11 games with a head injury. The hope is that the 21-year-old can help revitalize a Minnesota offense that has gone ice cold, scoring two or fewer goals in 11 of the past 13 games.
"I want to see him go out and play with confidence and bring what he can bring," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Obviously we'll be realistic with our expectations, but there is no better way of getting back in there except throwing him right in the fire."
Granlund was hurt on his first shift against the Phoenix Coyotes on Nov. 27, his first game back after missing two games due to another head injury. Before his struggles with injuries, he had found chemistry centering the Wild's second line between Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter.
"We'll reunite that line and see if they can rekindle some of that spark they had earlier on," Yeo said.
Zenon Konopka and Justin Fontaine will sit for Minnesota. Former Rangers forward Mike Rupp will return to the lineup and skate on the Wild's fourth line alongside Torrey Mitchell and Erik Haula.
With Josh Harding on injured reserve and Darcy Kuemper "not 100 percent," according to Yeo, Niklas Backstrom will get the start in goal for Minnesota. It appears the Wild will ride Backstrom for the time being, with Yeo hinting that the Finnish goaltender might start again Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"There's no reason why Backy can't play [Monday]. He's played plenty of back-to-backs. He did that last year for us too," Yeo said. "We have got an awful lot of confidence in the guy who is starting for us tonight. It's been kind of a difficult year for him. With the injuries and then Josh playing so well, it's been hard for us to get him in there and get him feeling good about his game. He's won an awful lot of hockey games for us and we know he can do more of the same."
Here is the projected lineup for the Wild:
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Jason Pominville - Mikael Granlund - Nino Niederreiter
Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley
Mike Rupp - Torrey Mitchell - Erik Haula
Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Keith Ballard - Clayton Stoner
Scratched: Zenon Konopka, Justin Fontaine, Nate Prosser
Injured: Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis treatment).