Wearing a yellow, non-contact jersey, Zach Parise took part in an optional practice with about a dozen other guys on the ice this morning at Xcel Energy Center.
It was Parise’s second time on the ice and first with some teammates since his last game Dec. 22 at the Rangers. He’ll miss his 12th consecutive game Thursday against the Oilers with a broken foot.
Parise said he barely broke a sweat Tuesday, so today’s practice was a better test to see how it felt. He described it as “OK.”
“A couple times I found myself off balance, sometimes favoring the other foot,” Parise said. “But after a while when I got comfortable using it, it felt pretty good. Quick starts, it felt much better than it did a month ago, so that’s a good sign.”
Parise praised the job the team has done since he was sidelined, “especially this last little stretch.”
Right now, he has got no timetable for a return.
“It’s skate, see how you feel the next morning, do a little more if you feel OK, then see how you feel the next morning,” Parise said. “So I’ll see how it is when I wake up in the morning. Timeline, I don’t know. You’ve got to get back into game shape and playing shape. It was tough not to being able to do that type of stuff for three, four weeks. It’s hard.”
On Jan. 8, Parise’s wife, Alisha, gave birth to twins – a girl, Emelia, and boy, Jaxson.
“It’s been the greatest thing ever. I couldn’t be happier,” Parise said. “It’s 10 times better than the way people describe it. Everyone says it’s the greatest thing in the world. You hear them, but you don’t really hear them until you go through it and see it and have them at home, it’s incredible.”
Coach Mike Yeo said it was great to see Parise on the ice today, but it’s imperative the Wild players who have gotten more significant roles in his absence “keep taking advantage of the opportunity.”
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t sit around waiting for him,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to make sure we bounce back from last night.”
The Oilers, a highly-skilled team, could be fired up Thursday. They made two trades today, sending goalie Devan Dubnyk to Nashville for local boy forward Matt Hendricks, who signed a free-agent deal there last summer. Hendricks played against the Wild the other day on a line with Eric Nystrom and Matt Cullen and one would assume plays in Minnesota on Thursday.
The Oilers then followed that up by trading a third-round pick to L.A. for Ben Scrivens. He is 7-5-4 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. As an NHL exec told me recently, it’s tough trading for Kings goalies because “you could probably give up a goal a game for them.”
Well, I’d doubt that, but the inference is the system there makes the goalie. I suppose we’ll soon know if the Oilers’ porous defense makes a goalie, too.
I like Scrivens, and my guess is Chuck Fletcher had conversations with the Kings, too, about Scrivens. The price wasn’t expensive. But with the Wild’s goaltending situation in a state of flux with Niklas Backstrom under contract for three years and Josh Harding’s uncertain health situation, it’s hard for Fletcher to proceed with any certainty. In other words, you can’t just add a goalie and suddenly have three taking up space on the roster if, as hopes, Harding returns soon and gets back to form.
Harding was tremendous at 18-7-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Harding practiced today in the Wild’s optional.
Yeo indicated after Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Ottawa that he wanted to have a practice today, but he was worried about weighing the need for rest with the need for work. Today, about half the Wild’s players did not practice.
Yeo explained that after watching the game again (which had to be tough for a coach that doesn’t drink caffeinated coffee), “It’s clear we couldn’t get to loose pucks, … couldn’t win our battles, … couldn’t move our feet when we got the puck. We would love to have some practice time,” but Yeo continued that with so many games in a short period of time with travel, “we’ve got to make sure we put some fuel back in the tank and make sure we compete hard [Thursday].”
The Wild played 48 games in the first 102 days this season, which was tied for the most games in the shortest period in the NHL. To put that in perspective, all NHL teams played 48 games in 99 days last year, so the Wild’s essentially at last year’s compressed pace.
I think the lack of practice time coupled with the grind of the pace has led to a team that has lacked energy on some nights.
Obviously, this hasn’t hurt Chicago and Anaheim, the other two teams that were at the Wild’s pace, but there’s a big difference in talent level, continuity and experience on those teams compared to the Wild.
“It evens out, but it’s been a challenge,” Yeo said.
Yeo actually met with some of the Wild’s younger players who took their optional off today because he feels it’s harder for younger players to take a day off and then play the next day. He says it’s easier for veterans to get mentally prepared.
Yeo said defenseman Jared Spurgeon has the boot off his, ahem, lower-body injury finally and is close to getting on the ice. Fletcher said Tuesday that he should skate by the weekend.
And Mikko Koivu is already walking without a limp and crutches.
“It’s amazing,” Yeo said. “I know he’s motivated to get back. It is encouraging …” seeing Parise, Koivu, Spurgeon and Harding around the team.
By the way, in practice today, assistant coach Darryl Sydor took part in the practice with the players. He wore the captain’s C on his sweater.
“He was handing out the jerseys and he happened to hand himself out the one with the ‘C’ on it,” joked Yeo. “He's officially the 17th defenseman in our organization. It might be lower than that actually.”
Sydor made sure to remind me he scored three goals, including the winner. Nate Prosser also wore a ‘C’ on his chest and Stephane Veilleux wore an ‘A.’
“He got a rebound,” Darcy Kuemper said, laughing. “Little easy for him because he’s got no equipment or a helmet, so guys couldn’t tie him up in front.”
Yeo wouldn’t say if Keith Ballard will get back in the lineup against the Oilers. If so, Yeo indicated that it would be playing the left side, which means either Clayton Stoner would be scratched or maybe Stoner plays the right side. There were shifts last night where Stoner played the right side, and ahem, Scandella and Stoner were on the ice for two goals against each.
Yeo wouldn’t say if Backstrom or Kuemper, who used to be junior teammates with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, would start. Backstrom is 17-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .942 save percentage at home against Edmonton.
The ONE loss? Last season’s home finale when he allowed three goals on five shots in 19 minutes in a 6-1 loss. That caused the must-win season finale the next night in Denver, the one Backstrom rebounded in by making 29 of 30 saves in a victory that put the Wild in the postseason for the first time in five years.
So, it wouldn’t shock me if Backstrom starts.
Lastly, Cloquet’s Jamie Langenbrunner, a two-time Cup-winning forward who won silver on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team as captain, retired today after 16 seasons.
Over an 1,109-game career, Langenbrunner scored 243 goals and 420 assists for 663 points, and also recorded a plus-minus rating of +62 to go along with 837 penalty minutes.
“When I went to New Jersey at first, I definitely knew of him and I’d met him before, but I guess we had those Minnesota ties with him and Erik Rasmussen,” Parise said. “So when I was a younger guy, he was so good to me and have me over his house for dinner and things like that with his family. I sat next to him in the locker room. He talked me a lot about being a professional and about playing the game the right way. I had my best years career-wise playing with him, so I owe him a lot. He’s gotten to being a really close friend of mine and to our family.”
That’s it for me. Fun day. I was actually filling in for Paul Allen when the Mike Zimmer news happened, so it has to be fun re-listening to a hockey guy squirm for three hours talking football.