Despite missing a number of key players, the Minnesota Wild continues to chug along in the New Year, winning five of six contests in 2014. While there is no timetable on return of four of its key veterans (Mikko Koivu
, Zach Parise
, Josh Harding
and Jared Spurgeon
), the team had some good news on the injury front as one skated on his own this morning before practice and another joined the club for today’s morning skate before taking on the Ottawa Senators at Xcel Energy Center tonight.
Zach Parise was on the ice with Wild Assistant Coach Darby Hendrickson before the team’s pregame skate. The forward has missed 10 games and hasn’t seen action since Dec. 22. Speaking to the media after practice, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo didn’t have an update on Parise’s status, but said he’s been working hard off the ice to try and maintain conditioning while he’s on the shelf.
“We can’t predict when we’ll see him in the lineup,” Yeo said. “He’s been training hard and working real hard, probably why he’s excited to get back on the ice. But there’s a difference between working out in the gym and getting on the ice and getting into the contact.”
Joining the team on the ice today, Josh Harding was a full participant, taking shots and rotating in with Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Keumper. Harding hasn’t felt well and has missed the last six games. While he didn’t go into detail about his ailments nor give a timetable for a possible return, but is looking forward to working his way back.
“There are some things that are out of my control and I thought we did everything in our control to get back to where we are now,” Harding said. “I’ve been working out hard with our strength coach, Kirk Olson, on and off the ice while the team has been gone.
“It’s a matter of getting the reps in and getting back to find a rhythm.”
For Harding, one of the most difficult parts of being out of the lineup is how well he was playing before going on Injured Reserve.
“It was probably the worst timing,” Harding said. “When you’re playing good and got that rhythm and finally get that chance, you want to run with it.”
It was good to see Harding back on the ice, but both the netminder and Yeo have their sights on the short term, tonight’s game against Ottawa. The Senators are one of the hotter teams in the National Hockey League, going 6-2-2 in its last 10 contests.
“A good first step to see (Harding) back on the ice,” Yeo said. “But Kuemps is in the net today and we’re just focused on tonight’s game right now.”
Kuemper earned a second straight start after Sunday’s, 4-0, shutout win over the Nashville Predators. After a rough couple of outings early in the season, the 23-year-old has looked like a completely different goaltender after getting recalled from Iowa.
“I think it’s confidence more than anything else,” Yeo said of the young netminder. “He looks much more composed and controlled in the net.”
Yeo acknowledged earlier in the year Kuemper might’ve had a “deer-in-the-headlights look.” However, in his recent string of starts, he’s played with a something-to-prove attitude and has been on his game.
Another player who has been proving himself since being recalled from Iowa is Jason Zucker. The winger has found a comfortable spot on a line with Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley.
“It’s three guys with skill and it’s three guys capable of making a play,” Yeo said. “If they go out there with the mindset of playing the game the right way, both with and without the puck, they’ll put themselves in a position to have those moments.”
Zucker has been playing a better two-way game, but it has been his production that has kept him in the lineup.
“Bottom line, when they’re in a scoring role, we need them to produce,” Yeo said of Zucker.
The wing talked to WildTV about his game and gelling with his linemates. Coyle also spoke to WildTV about playing with Heatley. The East Weymouth, Mass., native said that when he was a youngster—which, let’s be honest, wasn’t that long ago—he had a box of hockey cards with Heatley on the cover. He joked that his mom still sends him messages that his Heatley hockey cards are safe at home.
Finally, defenseman Jonathon Blum has been making the most of his opportunity since being recalled from Iowa. He’ll be in the lineup for the fourth-straight game and it looks like the blueliner will get some reps on the second power play unit alongside Jonas Brodin at the point. He spoke to WildTV about making the most of his opportunity and you can view that video below.