After trotting out a skeleton crew for Friday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center, the Minnesota Wild looked like an actual team at Saturday’s practice.
With centers Nick Bjugstad, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Johansson getting removed from the COVID list, and defenseman Louie Belpedio getting called up from the minor leagues, the Wild had 20 players on the ice in total.
That was enough healthy bodies for coach Dean Evason to put his players through something resembling an actual practice ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. More than likely, this will be the group that the Wild take into battle.
“Maybe not obviously line combinations,” Evason said. “We still have a couple days of practice, which is great. But yeah. The group that was out there is likely the group that will play the game.”
As far as line combinations go, Eriksson Ek centered Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala, Johansson centered Jordan Greenway and Kirill Kaprizov, Bjugstad centered Marcus Foligno and Ryan Hartman, and Luke Johnson centered Mats Zuccarello and Gerry Mayhew.
“It’s an opportunity to see people in different spots and different roles a little bit,” Evason said. “We liked our progression from yesterday having limited numbers on the ice to today having basically a team. And our energy was really good.”
That said, the Wild haven’t played a game since a Feb. 2 contest against the Colorado Avalanche. It raises the question: Will they be ready to play actual games this week?
“We don’t have much of a choice,” Parise said with a laugh. “It’s what we’re dealing with, and we’ll try to get the most out of the practices that we’re going to have before we play.”
That explains why there was a palpable energy at Saturday’s practice. While the Wild might be shorthanded for the next week or so, they know they can’t feel sorry for themselves once they start playing actual games. Especially considering the shutdown caused the Wild to fall behind in the overall standings.
“It was inevitable with teams playing only within the division that we were going to fall back,” Parise said. “That was going to happen no matter what. At this point, looking up at the standings, it’s kind of useless.”
Nonetheless, the Wild (6-5-0, 12 points) do have some ground to make up starting with Tuesday’s game. They currently trail both the Anaheim Ducks (6-6-6, 15 points) and the Arizona Coyotes (6-6-1, 13 points) for the final playoff spot in the West Coast division, though they do have games in hand on both teams.
“We just have to win the games,” Parise said. “It can go both ways. You can make up ground or fall back pretty quickly. We just have to win the games that we are playing and keep getting better within our own team.”
Luckily for the Wild, there’s a good chance the lineup starts to take on a different form over the next week or so as more players get removed from the COVID list. If a player is cleared to play while the Wild are on their upcoming road trip, Evason expects them to join the team via private air travel.
That should help the Wild get back into a groove sooner rather than later.
“We have a few days,” Fiala said. “It’s going to be tough, maybe the first game or so. But I think we are in good shape, and we are going to get back right where we left off. I have a good feeling about this.”
Wild captain Jared Spurgeon was also removed from the COVID list on Saturday afternoon. He did not practice with the team as he continues to recover from an upper-body injury.