The question is whether Wild coach Mike Yeo and forward Zach Parise were still being cautious or just being coy.
Parise, who has missed 14 consecutive games with a foot injury, had his second full-contact practice with the Wild today. It was his first while part of a regular line. He bumped, he battled, he went into the corners, worked on the top power play unit.
And yet, after it was over, he assessed his chances of playing at “50-50.’’
Yeo? He said he didn’t know if Parise would be back Thursday against Chicago at Xcel Energy Center. The idea was to get him into a full practice as part of a line and see how he felt. He will be checked again after Thursday morning’s pre-game skate, at which time a decision should be made.
“If he feels good to go, then obviously he’s in,” Yeo said. “It’s got to be, basically, that he knows, and he’s confident, that he’s up to full speed. And that he’s ready to come in and play at the level we need him to.’’
Greetings from Xcel Energy Center. Kent Youngblood here, filling in for Mr. Russo, who is away tending to a family matter for a few days.
But back to Parise. It’s hard not to think that the decision has already been made for Parise to return to action at home against Chicago. That is unless there is some unforeseen setback.
After all, Yeo trotted out some line combinations that were, given recent history, at least mildly surprising, indicative of a coaching staff haven given this a lot of thought.
Conventional wisdom had suggested that, with Mikko Koivu out with a foot/ankle injury of his own, that Yeo would use this opportunity to see how Parise looked on a line with Mikael Granlund. But, when practice got going today, here were the lines:
Parise on a line with center Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter; Granlund centering Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville; Kyle Brodziak centering Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula centering Jason Zucker and either Stephane Veilleux or Torrey Mitchell.
That means Yeo would consider breaking up the Coyle-Heatley-Zucker line which has been productive for the team. His thinking?
“We know he’s had chemistry with Charlie,” Yeo said. “And there have been a couple times the last couple games – they haven’t played a lot together – where Charlie and Nino have shown some chemistry together, too. And you have some big bodies with Zach who can help him out in some of the dirty areas out there on the ice. And so that’s what we thought we’d give a shot at today.”
As for breaking up the Coyle-Heatley-Zucker line? “It wasn’t that hard,” Yeo said. “We take things game-by-game. It’s a matter of what we need going forward.”
The other interesting note is that Zucker, usually a top-six forward when he’s in the lineup, will join the fourth line, making an already quick line that much faster.
That is, assuming, that Parise is ready to return.
In other news:
--As expected, goalie Niklas Backstrom returned to practice after having received an injection of cortisone for a nagging lower body injury on Monday, his second injection this month. Yeo said the expectation was Backstrom would be able to be the backup Thursday; the Wild sent goalie Johan Gustafsson to the Iowa Wild today.
--Yeo offered no update on goalie Josh Harding, calling the ailing Harding day-to-day.