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Granlund nearing return from injury

Forward hopeful to be in lineup on Tuesday when Wild opens homestand against Vancouver

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Mikael Granlund watch is in full effect around Xcel Energy Center.

Granlund, the Wild's leading scorer with 69 points last season, hasn't played since the season opener 18 days ago because of a groin injury. Slowly but surely, Granlund has been working his way back. 

First, it was just getting back on the ice for skating. Then it was picking up the pace and getting to the point where he could stop and start effectively. Then it was practicing with the group.

Granlund travelled with the club on its two-game road trip to Winnipeg and Calgary over the weekend, getting strenuous work each game-day morning, but did not scratch the lineup.

After a day off on Sunday, Granlund was out there again, participating in a full practice in a green jersey and skating on a line with familiar faces Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker.

"You really want to play and it's not easy to watch it when all the boys are playing, but it is what it is," Granlund said. "The boys did a good job in Calgary and now we're back home, and hopefully we're getting guys back too, it's just good to be out there."

Granlund wasn't sure if he'll be in the lineup on Tuesday, nor was Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who said he's been hopeful of such an addition prior to each of the past couple of games.

"I hope it's tomorrow, but I thought it was on Friday and I thought it was on Saturday too," Boudreau said. "If it's tomorrow, great. If it's Thursday, great. The sooner we get him in the lineup the better it is for our team."

Granlund's eventual re-addition to the lineup would lengthen a group that has been able to weather quite the storm over the first two weeks of the campaign. 

Zucker said nobody is satisfied with a 2-2-2 record after six games, but considering the sheer volume of injuries, the players involved in them, and the fact that five of the first six games have been played away from home, Minnesota has been able to keep itself afloat.

With a season-long six-game homestand set to begin against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the goal now is to build on the win in Calgary on Saturday and start to "make hay while the sun shines," as Boudreau so aptly put on Saturday.

"We've gotta come home and make sure that we make a statement in these six games," Zucker said. "Anytime you go .500 on the road, that's a good thing, but at the same time, I don't think we're satisfied with it and I think every guy in the room would tell you the same thing. We want to make sure that we come out and make a statement in these six games and come across with a great record at the end of these two weeks."

Busy week for Zucker

The homestand couldn't come at a better time for Zucker; he and his wife, Carly, are expecting their first child together on Friday. 

"It's going to be a bit hectic, but I think it's going to be the best week of my life, so I'm pretty excited," Zucker said. 

Zucker has a stepdaughter, Sophia, with Carly, but the two are expecting a baby boy this time around. The Wild play games on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week, so if everything goes as according to plan, Zucker should be good to go ... right?

"As best as I can plan it, yes, absolutely," he said with a laugh. "And I'm sure it's going to go off with no hitches and everything is going to be great. I'm planning for that." 

Killing confidence?

Minnesota's penalty kill has struggled early in the season, but defending a one-goal lead late in the third period against the Flames on Saturday, the PK stepped up and had its biggest kill to date.

Boudreau hopes that step in the right direction can have a lasting effect as the team comes home.

"I hope they get a lot [of confidence]," Boudreau said. "What's happened with the penalty kill is a lot of unfortunate stuff, I think. If you look at, we've had two 5-on-3 goals scored against us, we've had three deflections scored against us. Sometimes you can kill a penalty really well for a minute and a half and then they're scoring at the end. I think we've got good penalty killers. We were in the top 10 in this all year last year."

Boudreau attributed some of the early season struggles to personnel issues, including injuries to some of the Wild's most reliable penalty killers from a year ago.

"Let's not forget who our penalty killers were last year; it was Erik Haula, it was Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise. And they're not all playing [with us]," Boudreau said. "So it's getting new guys acclimated with new guys. And I thought [Luke] Kunin did a really good job yesterday, and I think [Daniel] Winnik and [Matt] Cullen are actually doing a pretty good job together. We used [Zucker] as an eighth penalty killer last year, and now, we're using him in the top two. There's a lot of moving parts there right now."

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