Zach Parise was full of smiles as he spoke in the locker room after the Wild’s optional morning skate and it wasn’t because one of the local reports asked him about the Team USA Olympic opening ceremony outfit.
Parise will re-enter the lineup tonight as the Wild hosts the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center. The forward was initially injured when he blocked a shot against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 25. He missed the next game and battled through 12 games, before going on Injured Reserve on Dec. 23.
“It’s tough when you’re watching the game from the press box for a long time,” Parise said. “I’m looking forward to playing again.”
The Wild dropped its first four games without Parise in the lineup, but as soon as the calendar flipped to 2014, the team turned things around quicker than a car going through a roundabout. Minnesota has won seven games in January.
“Seven of ten is always a good run,” Parise said. “They’ve been playing well, getting really good goaltending and timely goals. Hopefully we can keep that going forward because we’re going to play tough few games coming up.”
Darcy Kuemper has been providing that good goaltending and he’ll get the nod in net again tonight. The Wild has been outshot in its last two contests and would like to buck that trend. It will be a tough task against the Blackhawks—plus-6 in its shot differential per game this season. But with Parise back in the lineup, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo will get a puck-possession and shot machine. Despite missing a large chunk of the season, he still ranks 27th in the National Hockey League in shot attempts with 144.
“We’re talking about a guy who consistently puts five-plus shots on the board,” Yeo said. “For a team that’s had a tough time getting shots, that’s enormous.”
Against the defending Stanly Cup champs, and the club that knocked the Wild out of the postseason last year, it will be important for Minnesota to not sit back on its heels.
“We can’t play passive hockey,” Parise said. “We’ve got to get in on our the forecheck and control the puck better.
“We’ve got to play with some intensity otherwise these guys can run up the score quickly.”
Parise will start the game on a line with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Yeo did say that the team has a Plan B and C if they need to change thing up.
“Those two have been playing really well together,” Parise said. “Hopefully we can find some chemistry and put a couple pucks in the net.”
With Parise back there will be some line shifting. Forward Jason Zucker will move to the fourth line alongside Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell. In the past, the team has not used the speedy winger outside of a top-6 forward role. However, Yeo said that Zucker has expanded his game since returning to the Wild from Iowa and wants to give him a chance to play a different role, rather than just returning him to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. The trio isn’t your prototypical NHL checking line, but that might be an advantage against a deep Blackhawks squad.
Even with the Central Division leaders coming to town, the Wild was staying loose this morning. Parise said his teammates had a good laugh at his expense about the Team USA glamour shot that’s floating around the interwebs. He said (jokingly?) that there were a few 8 X 10’s floating around the locker room, too.
Mike Rupp and Stephane Veilleux will be tonight’s healthy scratches at forward. Earlier today, the team reassigned defenseman Jonathon Blum to Iowa.
Mystery Puck Sale
Everyone likes a good mystery. Well, that blanket statement is probably not true, but maybe you like autographed pucks. If that’s the case, go to Sections 104 and 121 as the Wild wives and girlfriends will be selling mystery pucks to benefit the Wild Foundation, while supplies last. A $25 purchase guarantees you'll receive a puck autographed by a current Wild player — the mystery is which autograph you’ll receive.