Wild's season so far a battle of attrition
Boudreau focused on righting ship early after injuries, pair of blown-third period leadsby Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com
MENDOTA HEIGHTS -- Certainly, the story of the early season for the Wild has centered around its injuries up front. With players out and cap space needed, the team conducted a practice at St. Thomas Ice Arena on Monday with just nine rostered forwards.
Defenseman Gustav Olofsson and assistant coach Darby Hendrickson filled out two of three fourth-line positions, at least to start practice. By the end, Olofsson was skating in a red sweater, worn by players on the first line.
"It's an experience every day, that's for sure," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreau has coached at every level of the professional game, so conducting a productive practice with fewer numbers is not a foreign concept to him.
"We did it in the [ECHL] all the time. Usually, what it means is, you're short of practices because you don't have the different guys doing reps. And you gotta give them a little bit more time in between each thing before they go again," Boudreau said. "Other than that, if you look at the silver lining, if you go an hour like that like we did today, with the numbers that we had today, they should get in better shape."
With several days again between games, Boudreau was able to conduct a physical practice session Monday, complete with battle drills. He hinted after the game on Saturday that this type of practice was coming, and with four more days between now and the Wild's next game on Friday, it could occur again on Tuesday.
The team has a day off on Wednesday before a bevy of forwards are expected to be called up in time to practice on Thursday. Minnesota flies to Winnipeg that afternoon before a Friday game with the Jets and a Saturday game in Calgary against the Flames.
Video: Wild Aim to Right Ship in Practice
"I just thought the goals that have been scored against us in the third period have been because we've been soft. We have given too much room, too much time and space, and in this league if you give too much time and space to anybody, teams are going to make you pay. And that's what they've been doing to us in the third period," Boudreau said. "I think we still are the lowest team in the league for goals against in the first period. And we're starting to get better in the second period. Now we have to work on the third period, which was a strength of ours last year.
"I think we've, for want of a better term, [given] away four points so far. And what I told the guys earlier, we may not think it's much because we've got 78 games to go. If you're in Game 78, and you're one point out, you're going to think back to those games where we flubbed for points. They could come back to haunt you. Hopefully they don't because hopefully we talk about it and nip it in the bud now. Those are games we should've had."
Monday started off as good as the Wild could have hoped.
Mikael Granlund, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, skated on his own before the team and looked good. He is so far progressing nicely, so well in fact, that Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher didn't rule him out to play against Winnipeg and Calgary this weekend, which didn't seem likely even last week.
Zach Parise, battling an undisclosed injury, was in a red jersey and skating on a line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Eric Staal. The goal for the past several days was for him to make his season debut this weekend.
But early in practice, Parise left the ice and did not return.
Video: Zach Parise Injury Update
"I talked briefly with Chuck, but he said it was a setback. I don't know how much of a setback or anything," Boudreau said. "I know I talked to him before practice and he felt great. That's why he was in a red color and was ready to go. The next thing I know, somebody told me he went off. I don't know why he went off. Obviously, something didn't feel right."
Fletcher said he didn't have any further details after practice, but that Parise leaving practice early was not a part of any sort of plan.
"We'll see what it means. I don't want to speculate, but it would have been better if he could have finished the practice, but he didn't, so we'll see how he feels," Fletcher said. "I try not to get too up or down and things like that. You feel badly for Zach, he's working hard and he's in great shape, and hopefully this is just a short-term setback, if it even is a setback. We'll find out more later on, but I'm sure it's very frustrating for him.
"Nobody cares and nobody wants to play hard and play well for this franchise more than Zach, and so we'll hope for the best there, but in the meantime we'll just deal with what we have to deal with."
Darby suits up
Hendrickson, a former Wild player, remains in fantastic shape and didn't look entirely out of place, even during battle drills. The 45-year-old hasn't played in an NHL game since the 2003-04 season, but is in as good or better shape than many players still in the League.
"He looked good, he could still play," said Wild forward Matt Cullen, five years Hendrickson's junior. "Fun to see him out there, he's a huge part of everything we do, so it's fun to have him out there."
"He keeps himself in fabulous shape, and he'll do anything for the team," Boudreau said. "When I phoned him yesterday, he said, 'Whatever you need me to do, coach.'"
The Wild could also soon get reinforcements back in the form of Marcus Foligno.
Foligno, who was injured in a fight against the Chicago Blackhawks (left facial fracture), did not play in the home opener, but could be back on the ice as soon as Wednesday and could practice with the team on Thursday.
He also hasn't been ruled out for this weekend's games.
"Foligno had a good off-ice workout today too and did well, so we'll see how everybody feels tomorrow and as the week goes on, we'll see who's a candidate to play for this weekend," Fletcher said. "Hopefully all going well he can start skating Wednesday and again, he's feeling better and better everyday."
Foligno will, at least initially, wear a cage on his helmet to protect his face following a surgical procedure performed on Sunday.