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Defensive depth will be key as Spurgeon deemed 'week-to-week' with injury

Wild captain will miss at least the next three games as he recovers from a lower-body ailment

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

TAMPA -- The Wild will be without defenseman and captain Jared Spurgeon through at least this weekend, the club learned Monday. 

Spurgeon sustained a lower-body injury during the first period on Saturday against the Florida Panthers and did not returned to the game. He also missed Minnesota's contest on Sunday and will mess the next handful of games, beginning Wednesday, when the Wild concludes its three-game trip against the New Jersey Devils.

Wild coach Dean Evason also said Spurgeon will miss this weekend's home games against Winnipeg on Friday and a rematch with Tampa Bay on Sunday.

"He won't play through the weekend and then we'll see how it progresses," Wild coach Dean Evason said on Tuesday before the club flew from Tampa, where it had an off day on Monday, to New Jersey. "It's week-to-week, we'll just wait an evaluate, get home, see our docs and then we'll get a good idea."

With Spurgeon shelved for at least the next few games, the Wild's defensive depth will be on display, as Jordie Benn and Calen Addison will get a chance to compete for regular playing time. 

Benn played Sunday for the first time since Oct. 28 and had a beautiful assist on Brandon Duhaime's second-period goal that briefly tied the game at 2-2. It was Benn's first point in a Wild sweater.

Video: Dean Evason Tuesday practice update

"Really liked how Jordie Benn played the game," Evason said. "Obviously, he had a really nice assist, but he played the game with a sense of urgency with that bite that we know he can play with. It was an asset for our hockey club.

"We've talked about our depth in all areas and the blue line is one of them. [Benn] in particular has not got into games because guys have played well. It's nice to have that depth in all areas of our game."

Spurgeon's absence will be felt throughout the lineup, however. The Wild's captain plays big minutes at even strength and is a staple on special teams. 

There's also his leadership void that will be missing on the ice, even though he is expected to finish out the road trip with the team. 

Video: Cam Talbot Tuesday practice update

"We have a good, veteran group back there but it's going to take all of us though," said Wild defenseman Alex Goligoski. "Tough shoes to fill, but hopefully it won't be too long and we can get through it while he's out.

"He's the leader of our team and one of our best players. It'll be tough without him, but guys gotta step up. A group effort. We'll figure it out."

Goose gets comfortable

With Spurgeon out, having a full-strength Goligoski who is finally comfortable in the lineup will help shoulder the load.

The veteran blueliner, who spent the past five years with the Arizona Coyotes, took some time to find a new rhythm once he came to Minnesota, but over the past couple weeks has really started to come into his own. 

Since returning from injury on Nov. 6, Goligoski is averaging a point per game, with one goal and eight assists in nine contests. He's also a plus-4 during that span. The 22 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time he had in Tampa on Sunday was also a season high.

Video: Alex Goligoski Tuesday practice update

"You just want to get a place where you're not thinking at all when you're out there," Goligoski said. "It can take a little while, old habits and stuff, especially if you're doing different stuff as a defenseman in the defensive zone. It's reps, it takes a little time, but at the same time, you're still playing hockey. It's not rocket science or anything."

Goligoski said that transition is easier as a veteran than it may have been as a youngster, however. He was traded midseason from Pittsburgh to Dallas as a 25-year-old, then signed as a free agent in Arizona when he was 31. 

He admitted playing under a single coach for the past four years may have engrained some habits in his game that needed tweaking, but said he feels like he's now in a good spot.

"You get kind of set in your ways," Goligoski said. "We're not doing crazy different stuff or anything, it's just little adjustments that you have to consciously make to not play the way you've always played."

Back to business 

The Wild enjoyed a full team day off in the sunshine and warmth of Tampa on Monday, a much needed day of rest, relaxation and fellowship away from the rink. 

One group of players went to St. Pete's Beach to unwind in the sand and play some volleyball early in the day, before the entire group got together for dinner and a football game. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the New York Giants for Monday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium, the players and several staff members went to the game and watched as fans. 

Video: Nico Sturm Tuesday practice update

"I haven't been to a beach in a couple years," said Wild forward Nico Sturm. "It was nice feeling the sand between your toes and just taking a couple moments. You don't get to do that very often during the hockey season so I think when you get the chance to, you've gotta grab it."

The game offered some, like Sturm, an opportunity to see his first NFL game in person. 

"It was pretty cool," Sturm said. "The field looks a lot smaller on TV. I think it looks huge, but I was really impressed with the atmosphere. I thought it was great."

Sturm isn't a rookie, but because he came up too late his first year, and the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow for it last year, he joined the club's other rookies and "first-year" players in wearing a pirate costume to the game. 

But with the Buccaneers being the hosts, the group fit right in.

"We weren't even the most dressed up people at the game," Sturm said. "I think we we fit right in."

With a condensed season because of the Olympics in February, the brief getaway day allowed an opportunity for guys to spend time together in a setting other than the dressing room.

"It's been nice, and especially this year, we've been on the road so much, to get a day off in the nice weather and be able to enjoy it with the guys was refreshing," Goligoski said. "If you're in the middle of a grind, it makes it a bit easier."

Now, it's back to work for the Wild as it aims to finish the road trip Wednesday night with some positive momentum. 

"We trust our group, we trust our leadership group," Evason said. "Sure, we had a day off in Florida. We hope that it was a nice team-building exercise for us. That's important, it's important for the mental health to not be around the rink and do some stuff together. 

"But we don't worry that we're not going to be in a mindset or physically, you're going to be there. We trust that we're going to do the right things mentally to be prepared for that game tomorrow."

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