After a day off Wednesday, the Wild gathered at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday for its first full practice in more than a week. The team has played every other day since March 3, and coach Mike Yeo said it felt a little strange to have two non-game days in a row.
A focused, energetic practice included five-on-five and power-play work, in preparation for a very challenging stretch of games. On Friday, the Wild plays Pacific Division leader Anaheim, whose 91 points are tied for the most in the NHL with Nashville, Montreal and the New York Rangers. It travels to St. Louis on Saturday to face the Blues, who are only two points behind Nashville and Anaheim in the Western Conference standings.
The Wild hasn't fared well against either team recently. Mr. Russo reports it is 1-7-1 in its past nine against Anaheim and has lost five in a row to the Ducks at home. It is 2-7-2 in its past 11 at St. Louis and has been outscored 38-19 in those games. The Wild hasn't won in regulation at St. Louis since Oct. 20, 2007, and it hasn't beaten Anaheim at home since Feb. 18, 2011.
Yeo said Thursday that he doesn't like to look at games as measuring sticks. But he noted that the Wild must beat teams like this if it hopes to get into the playoffs and do well--and there is no better way to sharpen up for the postseason than to face a daunting schedule.
"You want to be playing meaningful games this time of year,'' he said. "You want to be in the thick of it. You want to be in the hunt. In a lot of ways, it would be real nice to have a huge cushion and have every game not mean as much as it does right now for us. By the same token, I've been part of those teams--and when your game's not quite sharp, and you're playing against all these teams that are real hungry, you kind of limp into the playoffs. And that’s not what you want. If we do get in, and we believe that we will, then our game is going to have to be real good along the way. And that means when we do get in, we’re ready.
"I don’t think there's anybody in the league that has a tougher schedule than us from here on out. This will give us a pretty good idea. Just to get into the playoffs is going to prove we have the ability to win against playoff-caliber teams. We believe we'll get in. We know there's a lot of work to be done, and we know it's also very difficult down the stretch with this schedule. But if we do (get into the playoffs), when we do, we'll have confidence going in.''
The Wild didn't make any changes to its lines or power-play units Thursday. Yeo reiterated that defenseman Marco Scandella will not be ready to play this weekend, and he did not yet have word on how Jason Zucker's doctor's appointment went. Yeo planned to meet with the Wild's medical staff Thursday afternoon to get an update on Zucker's recovery from a broken collarbone.
Kyle Brodziak took the day off Thursday--a maintenance day, Yeo said--but did an off-ice workout and will be in the lineup Friday.