The boys are back in town. And as they return to home ice for two games before the Olympic break, defenseman Jared Spurgeon
will join them.
After taking in 14 games from a roost in the press box, the blue liner said he’s ready to go.
“It’s exciting,” Spurgeon said. “I’ve had a couple practices with contact under the belt and now I feel ready to go. I’m looking forward to it.”
At the time of his injury, Spurgeon was just the second of eventually three injuries that resulted from blocking shots. With the increased occurrence of the injury in such a short span of time, the team looked into wearing shot blockers. Though none have worn them previously, Spurgeon will test his custom-fitted pair out tonight.
“The ones we had last year weren’t molded to your foot and were a bit bigger. When I was turning I felt I would slip out,” Spurgeon said. “But I’ve been wearing the ones that we got made the last two days and I haven’t felt anything so far. I know it’s a bit different in practice from a game. But I’ll be trying them out tonight and make sure I’ll wear them until it’s fully healed.”
Sprugeon also noted that when they set a timetable for his return, tonight is the night they hoped for. Anything earlier would have been a bonus. But tonight, he knows he has to keep his first few shifts simple to get his feet wet.
With the 24-year-old back in, Clayton Stoner will step out. Head Coach Mike Yeo said he met with Stoner this morning to explain the decision wasn’t about him, that they aren’t unhappy with his play, rather it’s the level of play his fellow blueliners have brought lately that was the deciding factor.
“What it comes down to is, Ballard has really been playing well; Prosser has really been playing well,” Yeo said. “Obviously with Scandella, Brodin and Suter — we had to make a decision and that’s where we’re at.”
The Wild also switched up its fourth line in anticipation of a speedy matchup with the Lightning. Erik Haula will center Torrey Mitchell and Stephane Veilleux while Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine are the healthy scratches. Fontaine did miss practice yesterday due to illness and doesn’t feel 100 percent, according to Yeo, who also added they felt it was best to give him another day.
Speaking of tonight’s opponent, Tampa Bay currently sits third in the Eastern Conference and second to Boston in the Atlantic Division. Tonight caps a four-game road trip for the Lightning and though it is currently 1-2-0 on the trip, the team has not registered a loss against the Central Division with a 7-0-1 record this season.
The Wild and Lightning are not incredibly well-known to one another, with only 15 games played between the two teams. While Minnesota holds a 9-4-2 edge all-time, Tampa Bay took the first meeting of the season, 3-1, on Oct. 17.
In the rematch, three and half months later, the Lightning may be without Steven Stamkos — who scored the game-winner against the Wild last time — but they aren’t to be underestimated.
“They’re playing good hockey,” Mikael Granlund said. “They’re pretty good defensively and we know they have those guys who can score. It’s going to be a tough night. We’ve got to be ready right from the start.”
The Bolts’ offense is led by Martin St. Louis. He tops Tampa Bay in all scoring categories with a team-high 25 goals, 28 assists and 53 points. St. Louis leads a group of eight scorers with over ten goals (includes Stamkos with 14). Meanwhile the Wild has just four players with over ten goals, but, as we’ve seen, the Wild has been getting things done by committee lately, with different names gracing the score sheet almost every night.
A Few Of Their Favorites
At both games this week — Feb. 4 and 6 — fans bid on baskets made by the players and their wives and girlfriends, filled with all sorts of goodies and their favorite things. The silent auction tables can be found on the main concourse near Section 104. Fans can bid from the time the doors open until the start of the third period. All proceeds will benefit the Wild Foundation.
Parise Goes Wild
If you're watching the game at home tonight, be sure to stay tuned after the post-game coverage as the latest "Becoming Wild" episode will air. In the fifth episode of the season, the "Becoming Wild" crew stays local and catches up with Zach Parise.