Josh Harding practiced with the Wild for the first time since the morning skate Feb. 11 in Calgary. The next day, he was scratched from his anticipated start in Vancouver because of complications he was having adjusting to new medication for multiple sclerosis.
“I felt quick, I thought I was making the saves I should have made,” Harding said. “Each day’s a new step, but I’m definitely happy on how today went. I felt like my old self, which is good to feel like.”
Darcy Kuemper will remain at least until Harding is ready to return. I assume he would need a number of practices, but at some point probably next week, the Wild will send Harding to Houston to get a couple games in. There’s only five games left in Houston’s season after tonight’s game against Oklahoma City.
The Aeros, who are fifth in the West, are three points up on a playoff spot.
The Wild had its team photo this morning. Afterward, injured Matt Cullen tested his "lower body" injury a bit. It's clear he is getting closer to returning, but he did not practice today and thus won't play tomorrow against St. Louis.
Same lines against the Blues. Tom Gilbert is expected to return to the lineup and be paired with Justin Falk. That means Nate Prosser sit because he’s a Right Defenseman and Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Gilbert will be ahead of him.
Clayton Stoner remains in the lineup. Coach Mike Yeo talked to him today and said it’s imperative to push last night’s mistake (turnover on losing goal to Marian Hossa) aside and probably do his best to block out the outside noise.
The Blues are a big, hard-nosed team and Yeo said the Wild must play a hard game, and thus Stoner is needed vs. the Blues.
The big thing going on with the team now though is the state of flux the lines suddenly are in without Cullen and Dany Heatley. The second line has been ineffective without Cullen, and without Heatley, Charlie Coyle has taken his spot there. The Mikko Koivu line is also trying to gain chemistry with Jason Pominville.
So Yeo is trying to weigh the balance between giving these guys the chance to gain chemistry as top-3 lines or when do you shake it up with the urgency needed with only nine games left in a season that has hit a bump in the road lately.
My guess is the Blues game will be the big determining point. The second line is the big area of concern. Devin Setoguchi has gone from hot to cold without Cullen. I’m not so sure it’s a coincidence that Pierre-Marc Bouchard (no goals, one assist the past 8 games) has seen a dip in play since that outside pressure of Jason Zucker taking his spot disappeared with Zucker’s reassignment to Houston.
There is going to come a point here where the Wild has to get Zucker, who made the AHL All-Rookie team, back in the lineup here.
There’s a number of factors why Zucker isn’t here, the biggest being a complicated transaction technicality. I will explain in more detail in tomorrow’s Strib (that’s our print-edition newspaper, check it out), but basically you get four non-emergency callups after the trade deadline and the Wild would put itself right to the max if it called up Zucker without sending down Mikael Granlund.
The Wild needs Granlund up here now to play center because of Cullen’s injury. Like I said, I’ll get into this more in tomorrow’s paper, but there will come a point very soon where the Wild may need to just call up Zucker and deal with being at the callup max for the rest of the season. From my understanding, this is not why Marco Scandella isn't here. I just don't think his game is in order, and frankly, it wasn't when he was here earlier this season.
Former Gophers center Erik Haula will make his Aeros debut tonight against Oklahoma City. He’s centering Brett Bulmer and Carson McMillan.
Blues are coming off two Brian Elliott shutouts in a row and have won five in a row. Elliott vs. Niklas Backstrom on Thursday.
I am technically off on Thursday, believe it or not. Rachel Blount will be at the morning skate and blog afterward. She is also covering the game, although I’ll show up to tweet my fingers off, blog and do my regularly-scheduled Fox Sports North gig.
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The Wild completed a 2-1-1 road trip with a second straight blanking, this time in Buffalo.
Look for a couple of power play changes by the Wild, including the return of former Buffalo captain Jason Pominville to the point.
Injured Jared Spurgeon and Erik Haula took part in today's optional skate, but coach Bruce Boudreau indicated that neither one would return against the Sabres.
The Wild got five goal scorers, four in the second period, to trounce the Bruins.
We'll find out nine or 10 hours if the Wild can take advantage of a break it's at least theoretically catching tonight.