The Minnesota Wild will be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Thursday when it hosts the Washington Capitals at Xcel Energy Center.
Spurgeon missed Minnesota's game on Tuesday with a deep bruise. The injury, sustained on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues, forced Spurgeon out of that game in the second period.
After practice on Wednesday though, Spurgeon was hopeful of making a return against the Capitals, who pace the NHL with 82 points this season.
"Just not ready," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "He's shooting the puck ok, but not ready to go into the corner, and battle against a team that battles hard."
Instead, the Wild will face Washington, the NHL's highest-scoring team without Spurgeon, who is second on Minnesota in ice time behind Ryan Suter. The Wild is also without defenseman Jonas Brodin, fourth among Wild skaters in ice time.
"What it comes down to is it's a good challenge, and we're looking forward to it," Yeo said.
As Yeo pointed out though, this is a different Capitals team than year's past. While Washington leads the NHL in scoring, it's also second in goals against, and it's plus-56 goal-differential is 24 ahead of the next closest team.
"They’re playing with more discipline than they have in year's past, too," Ryan Carter said. "They're playing to a system, and it's not just the run-and-gun that they used to have. There's a challenge there because you can't press and try to make too many plays, and turn it over to their guys that are offensive, and that's where their success is coming from."
The Capitals have also added depth to its forward group. Alex Ovechkin, who since entering the league in 2005, has scored more goals (506) than any other skater, still leads the Capitals in goals this season with 31.
But Ovechkin is third on Washington in scoring, which would mark the first time in his career he hasn't led the Capitals in points in a regular season.
"It starts with him, but it doesn’t end there," Yeo said. "Anybody that's had a TV and has tuned into to watch any NHL hockey has seen enough highlights to know what he's capable of out there, but when you're watching him, (Nicklas) Backstrom is quite often in those same clips. The play of (Evgeny) Kuznetsov right now — he's leading their team significantly, just as far as offensively what he's creating."
When the Wild is on its game though, which it is again hoping to get to quickly on Thursday, it's a stingy defensive team, and one that thinks it can stand up to the Capitals.
"First thing is, we have to understand that we're very capable of winning this game, and we have to go in with that mentality," Devan Dubnyk said. "We're a great defensive hockey team, so if we outwork their offense, it's going to give us a pretty good chance."
Both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were not present at morning skate, but Yeo said each player would be fine to play on Thursday.
"Going back to what we did last year, a lot of these times when we're playing a game every second day, it was based on making sure you get one skate at least in between those," Yeo said. "They were stronger and felt better skating the day before, and then staying off in the mornings."
Suter played a game-high 33:15 against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. He has eclipsed the 33-minute mark in each of the Wild's past two games, skating 33:08 against the St. Louis Blues, including 9:20 on the power play.
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek – Erik Haula – Justin Fontaine
Jason Zucker – Jarret Stoll –Ryan Carter
Ryan Suter – Christian Folin
Marco Scandella – Matt Dumba
Nate Prosser – Mike Reilly