After a couple of weeks off because of a COVID outbreak that ran through the team, the Minnesota Wild were scheduled to play the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, Feb. 16, at Staples Center.
If the 14 days between games wasn’t enough to put the Wild at a disadvantage, they also entered the game shorthanded with Jonas Brodin, Brad Hunt, Victor Rask, Carson Soucy and Cam Talbot still on the COVID list and unavailable to play.
Plus, the Wild were without captain Jared Spurgeon, who is close to returning from an upper-body injury, as well as Nick Bonino, Ian Cole and Nico Sturm, who weren’t ready to play after only recently being removed from the COVID list.
While some of those players could be ready to return later this week, the long list of absences massively impacts the Wild lineup in the short term. No players felt the brunt of this more than Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba. They were the only NHL regulars scheduled to suit up on the blue line.
“It’s going to be a different experience, for sure,” Suter said before Tuesday’s game. “It’s a lot of guys that we aren’t used to playing with.”
That’s putting it lightly. Just look at the defensive pairings the Wild planned to trot out against the Kings.
In place of Spurgeon, rookie Calen Addison was set to make his NHL debut alongside Suter. Instead of Brodin, journeyman Dakota Mermis was penciled in next to Dumba. Instead of Cole and Soucy, depth players Matt Bartkowski and Louie Belpedio form that third pairing.
What was coach Dean Evason’s message?
“Just go out there and seize the moment,” he said. “We talked about it with the other guys that got pulled off the taxi squad and helped us have success. We’re expecting these guys to do the exact same thing.”
In other words, the Wild weren’t making excuses heading into the Kings game.
“We’re going to go out there and everyone is going to play hard and do what they are capable of doing,” Suter said. “It is what it is. We don’t have to over-complicate things. Whoever is in the lineup is going to go out there and play hard. That’s the good thing about sports.”
Back in the net
After being thrust into the lineup on a regular basis last month, young backup goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen once again will be asked to shoulder the load for the Wild in the net for a while. Or at least until Talbot, the starter, is removed from the COVID list.
It’s the second time this season that Kahkonen has filled in for a prolonged stretch. He stepped up last month when Talbot suffered a lower-body injury that kept him out a couple of weeks.
“You’ve got to be ready for anything,” Kahkonen said. “Especially a season like this.”
Entering Tuesday’s game, Kahkonen had a 3-3-0 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.
“We obviously want to get back on track,” Kahkonen said before the game. “We have had some really good games and really good stuff we have been doing. We just want to get on the right foot here.”
After postponing a half-dozen games because of the team’s recent COVID outbreak, the Wild received an updated schedule from the NHL on Tuesday that affect eight games. The changes:
- at San Jose, originally scheduled for April 23, now Monday, Feb. 22 at 9:30 p.m.
- at Colorado, originally scheduled for Feb. 4, now Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.
- Arizona at Xcel, originally scheduled for Feb. 6, now Tuesday, March 16 at 7 p.m.
- St. Louis at Xcel, originally scheduled for Feb. 11, now Thursday, March 25 at 7 p.m.
- at St. Louis, originally scheduled for April 11, now Saturday, April 10 at 7 p.m.
- St. Louis at Xcel, originally scheduled for Feb. 9, now Monday, April 12 at 7 p.m.
- Arizona at Xcel, originally scheduled for Feb. 7, now Wednesday, April 14 at 8 p.m.
- at Los Angeles, originally scheduled for Feb. 13, now Friday, April 23 at 9 p.m.