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Wild Returns To Practice, Works Special Teams

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Though it was two days ago the Minnesota Wild last found itself on the ice, playing on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, Mikko Koivu said, "It feels like a week."

The Wild returned to the ice at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday for practice, having taken Monday and Tuesday off. That came on the heels of having played a back-to-back, three games in four nights, and eight in the past 13.

"It was awesome, and every guy in the room would probably tell you the same," Jason Zucker said. "It was really nice to have two days. It felt really weird. Yesterday, it felt like I was supposed to be doing something, and I just forgot."

With a brief respite from the chaos that is the latter portion of the NHL schedule, the Wild got back to work on Wednesday, spending time working on special teams, among other areas.

There are 15 games separating Minnesota from the end of the regular season, and currently in possession of a playoff spot, Minnesota wants to shore up any elements of its game that could use tightening.

"They looked good," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "They had a lot of jump, a lot of talk, and it was just what we were looking for.

"We had some energy on the special teams there. Both sides were competing, and that's what you want to see."

Where the Wild's power play has blossomed, goals in 16 of its past 21 games, going 23.1-percent over that stretch, the penalty kill has not been as efficient, with goals-against in 12 of its past 18, going 66.7% over that stretch.

"It's about the next one," Mikko Koivu said. "There's nothing we can do about (the past), and … every goal is different."

Against the Blues on Sunday, the penalty kill got a new personnel look, with Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund all killing penalties up front next to Ryan Carter, Chris Porter, and Jason Zucker.

"They just came and asked for me to go to the PK meeting the one day, and then that game we didn't have any penalty kills," Parise said. "They had me come to the next one, but I'm not sure the reasoning. I think it's more so because one of the PK'ers was out of the lineup, so they needed someone else."

Torchetti said he thought Parise's speed helped keep the Blues honest in the neutral zone, and the Wild killed off the only minor penalty it took, applying up-ice pressure.

"We want the best opportunity to win the game, and if we have to use our top guys, you watch teams like the Blackhawks, and they’ve got (Jonathan) Toews and (Marian) Hossa," Torchetti said. "Their best players are in the best situations, and those are things that if we feel we have to keep improving in that area, than we'll do it."

In practice, the Wild's penalty kill gets a chance to work with one of the league's hottest power plays in the Wild's, a good challenge.

"We're trying to use that to our advantage, and really try to make sure that they're not scoring out here in practice," Zucker said. "Hopefully that will carry into the game as well."

The only player missing from practice was forward Jason Pominville. He's day-to-day with a lower-body injury that was sustained against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

Pominville's status for Thursday is uncertain, but if he does play, he would set a Wild franchise record for the most consecutive games played at 232. He tied the record, held by forward Kyle Brodziak, in the Wild's game against St. Louis on Sunday. 

"He didn't skate the last three, so we'll have to see after the morning skate, even if he does," Torchetti said.

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