There are days you drive to practice and wonder, "What the heck am I going to write about today?" Today was one of those days until I walked into the arena, looked at the ice and noticed who was there and who wasn't.
Here's the news:
--Todd Richards got the media all up in a lather by volunteering this regarding Latendressse: “Tomorrow, maybe. On the road trip, maybe. He’s getting close though.” Of course, the only thing we heard was, "Tomorrow." Whether that's an actual reality, we'll have to find out in the morning. Latendresse certainly seemed surprised by Richards' declaration. He's clearly at that last stage that's common for all athletes who are close to coming back from a long-term, major injury: He's got to overcome the mental hurdle.
As you may have read in today's note here, Latendresse is noncommittal as far as when he can return. He's got to feel confident he 1) won't get hurt again; 2) can play through the pain that still is there; 3) will not disrupt the team and actually makes things worse. He talked about that fear today. Games are so close and so important right now, he noted that one mistake can lose a game. He doesn't want to be the guy to lose the Wild a game because his conditioning isn't up to par. After all, this is the fastest and most intense the games have been all year. Players are in playoff mode. Latendresse will be in training camp mode, like when the pitchers are ahead of the batters in spring training.
So Latendresse wasn't about to pronounce himself ready to play against the Avalanche yet. He said, "It’s day to day to week to week," he said laughing. "Can be tomorrow, can be in two weeks. We don’t know. We’re going to make a decision, everybody together. But for now, no decision has been taken."
Latendresse's return would be huge for this team though. They're getting a ton of chances around the net but just don't have the players to "finish" on a regular basis, especially with Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck and Latendresse out. Latendresse scored the Wild's first goal of the season in Helsinki (God, that seems like 10 years ago) by driving the net and burying an incredible play by Koivu. It's the type of goal this team has lacked all year.
--Speaking of Koivu, he returned to practice today. He was supposed to miss three weeks. Friday will be three weeks, so he's right on schedule. Koivu won't play tomorrow and I find it highly doubtful he'll play in back-to-back games at Nashville and Dallas. But Richards said Vancouver or San Jose is an option. He'll come on the road trip to skate at the morning skates and two scheduled practices (one in Vancouver, one in San Jose).
But Koivu is still having trouble gripping his stick and has not been cleared for battle drills yet. He is definitely not completely healed, but it's clear that he'll be willing to return when he can grip that stick well enough to shoot, pass, take faceoffs.
-- Andrew Brunette is sick and is a question mark for tomorrow. He didn't feel well yesterday, so the Wild is hoping that was the start and it'll be over and done with today so he can play tomorrow. This sickness is trickling through the team, but so far the Wild has done a good job isolating it to one player at a time by getting the sick player away from the team. If Brunette can't play, Latendresse will take his spot or the Wild will have to call up a forward.
-- Clayton Stoner didn't practice today because of a lower body injury. But Richards said he'll play tomorrow.
-- Cal Clutterbuck won't play tomorrow and continues to be day to day with the upper body injury that's "upper" than his shoulders.
--Niklas Backstrom is starting in goal vs. the Avs.
-- Fast start is imperative. It's the starts that's killing the Wild again lately, particularly the last four. This is a team that has the NHL's third-best record when it strikes first (26-2-4) and 7th-worst when it gives up the first goal (8-23-3).
All teams have records like this, but the Wild especially are a completely different team when ahead than when trailing. The opponent has scored first in the Wild's last 12 losses.