Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where the Wild will wrap up a four-game homestand on Tuesday when it hosts the San Jose Sharks.
With a victory, the Wild would wrap up a winning homestand following victories over Montreal and Florida last week and a one-goal loss to Calgary on Saturday. This week marks the final one before the four-day holiday break, which commences for the Wild following a home contest against Dallas on Saturday.
The big news from Tuesday is the return of Wild captain Mikko Koivu to the lineup. Koivu has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury.
"I've had a couple good skates and preparing-wise, I'm where I want to be, so I'm good to go," Koivu said.
With Jason Zucker also back after a one-game absence because of an illness, the Wild once again has a fully healthy forward group that has a more balanced look than when Koivu was initially hurt 12 days ago in Calgary.
Minnesota will be without defenseman Matt Dumba, who sustained an upper-body injury against the Flames on Saturday, one which will keep him out for this week, at a minimum.
Video: Bruce Boudreau on status of Matt Dumba
The loss of Dumba will not be an easy one to overcome; the NHL's leader in goals by defensemen this season, Dumba touches nearly all aspects of the Wild's game, including its power play, which enters the day Tuesday ranked eighth in the League (24.3 percent).
"We'll make up for it," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "Somebody goes out, somebody goes in. I was looking at the injury reports today and there are some teams have eight guys out, nine guys out and we've got one. He's a good player, but let's move forward and not worry about injuries at this stage."
For more on Koivu's return and Dumba's expected absence, check out Monday's practice report.
Kevin Falness and I also discussed Dumba's importance to the blue line and previewed the game against San Jose in a PONDcast recorded yesterday after practice:
With Dumba out, Jared Spurgeon and Greg Pateryn will see their roles elevated on the Wild's blueline. That opens up a spot in the lineup for Nate Prosser, who will play in his third game of the season tonight.
Prosser joined Zach Parise and Ryan Carter for a game of Two Truths and a Lie that you can check out here:
Video: Only in Minnesota: Two Truths and a Lie, Part II
With Koivu back in the fold, the Wild's forward group is as balanced as its been all season. That also means competition for ice time on its fourth line could be at a premium. Check out this fun feature on Minnesota's group of "wagons" that's battling it out.
In case you missed it, here is today's Wild Warmup.
Here are some photos from today's optional Wild morning skate at Xcel Energy Center:
Devan Dubnyk was the first goaltender off the ice for the Wild this morning and is expected to get the nod in goal.
Here is a look at what Minnesota's lines could look like:
Jordan Greenway - Eric Staal - Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise - Charlie Coyle - Nino Niederreiter
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Luke Kunin
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Eric Fehr
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Greg Pateryn
Nick Seeler - Nate Prosser
The Sharks enter tonight's game having won four consecutive games and six of their past seven overall, but have won just twice in their past 11 tries overall at Xcel Energy Center.
San Jose's current hot stretch coincides with a five-game point streak for defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has six assists and is a plus-6 during that span.
The Sharks have eight players with at least 20 points this season, including Logan Couture and Brent Burns, who are tied for the team lead with 34 points.
Joe Pavelski has a team-high 20 goals while Timo Meier is enjoying a breakout season with 18 goals and 15 assists.
Goaltender Martin Jones has seen a bulk of the starts between the posts, going 13-7-3 with a 2.94 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage in 24 games.
Jones allowed three goals on four shots in 14 minutes of action Sunday in Chicago before giving way to Aaron Dell, who stopped all 16 shots he faced the rest of the way to earn the victory.
Here is how the Sharks could look on Tuesday:
Tomas Hertl - Logan Couture - Timo Meier
Evander Kane - Joe Pavelski - Joonas Donskoi
Marcus Sorensen - Joe Thornton - Kevin LeBanc
Barclay Goodrow - Lukas Radil - Melker Karlsson
Brenden Dillon - Erik Karlsson
Radim Simek - Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Watching/listening to tonight's game:
- The game will be televised on FOX Sports North
- It can also be streamed on the FOX Sports app
- It can be heard on FM 100.3 KFAN or the Wild Radio Network
- You can also stream the audio online in the Wild app
If you're attending tonight's game, here's what's going on:
Video: Wild Vision: Dec 18. vs San Jose