Amidst a three-game road swing, the Minnesota Wild returned to the State of Hockey for a few days before shipping out to take on the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at 6 p.m. CST. Today, the team traversed the snow-slicked streets for a ‘road’ practice, skating at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus before leaving for the Garden State.
It might’ve been a dreary day for the snow-anxious outside, but despite a three-game losing streak, spirits were much higher than the sidewalk slush, as the three injured players re-joined the Wild for practice. Goaltender Josh Harding, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Jared Spurgeon all wore red non-contact jerseys during the practice. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo could feel an uptick in energy.
“There’s no question there’s an emotional lift,” Yeo said. “It’s a positive feeling, the fact that they’re out there and the idea that they’ll be returning and helping the group.”
With the players taking their first steps to getting back to game play, Yeo said their eminent return could serve another purpose.
“It’s certainly a motivator for some people,” Yeo said. “Somebody’s coming back into the lineup that means that there will be other guys that get moved around.”
All three will travel to Jersey with the team, but will not play against the Devils.
It was the first time that Harding skated with the team since breaking his ankle before the start of training camp. The netminder has no timetable for a return and said it’s the first step in the process of helping out the team.
Parise was diagnosed with a concussion after leaving midway through the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 4. Yeo didn’t have an update on Parise, although the forward did take turns on the fourth line during rushes and in-zone coverage. He also was a part of the penalty kill unit during the team’s special teams work. .
Spurgeon suffered an upper-body injury after crashing into the boards hard against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 30. The defenseman said he was on the ice three days after the injury, so his conditioning level hasn’t taken that much of a hit. Spurgeon doesn’t have a date in mind, yet, but is optimistic that once the injury has healed and strengthened, he’ll have a seamless return.
“Bottom line, we had to get through today,” Yeo said. “This is a big step.”
Need to Capitalize
Yeo was optimistic about the way the team has played during stretches of its three-game slide. He noted that they’ve played well during the first period, but has been unable to sustain that level throughout the final 40 minutes.
The biggest problem has been the lack of offense, scoring only two goals during the winless streak. The bench boss believes that the team has had plenty of chances, but hasn’t buried early, which has led to streaky play for the rest of the game.
“You look at the last couple of games that we’ve had,” Yeo said. “We’ve gotten off to great starts, we don’t score and we get away from our game a little bit or the game gets away from us.
“There were stretches where we were, flat out, really good. But the ability to stay with it for 60 minutes, we’ve got to be a little stronger between the ears.”
Possible Lineup Changes
Yeo didn’t comment on tomorrow’s lineup, but if today’s practice was an indicator, Jonathon Blum could be seeing his first action with the Wild tomorrow. The blueliner was on the third D-pairing with Keith Ballard. Defenseman Nate Prosser skated alongside Marco Scandella, so that is a possible pairing against the Devils.
Here’s what the rest of the lines and defensive tandems looked like: