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Wild preparing for Oilers

  • Blog Post by: Kent Youngblood
  • February 21, 2011 - 4:36 PM

Greetings. Youngblood here. I was at practice today, but Russo will return for tomorrow's game against the Oilers. He will also follow the team out west -- and away from the snow -- later in the week.

As Russo blogged earlier, Koivu's broken finger will not need surgery, and GM Chuck Fletcher all but guaranteed that the Wild captain would be back before the end of the season.

So, as I will write for tomorrow, what will the Wild do between now and then? 

Russo reported the Wild was doing due diligence in the trade department, but Fletcher said no trade will ''replace'' the things Koivu has. He's right, of course. There isn't anyone out there who's available right now who will come in and play 20 minutes, center the team's top line, play in every situation and take key faceoffs.

That doesn't mean a deal won't be made by the deadline. But Fletcher also said any deal made would have to bring a player in who wouldn't alter what he sees as outstanding chemistry in the Wild dressing room.

So, without a trade, who fills Koivu's minutes. Richards does not want to break up the Nystrom-Madden-Clutterbuck line given the way it has gelled as a checking unit in recent games. And Richards wants to keep a line that has Bouchard and Havlat on the wings. That would seem to preclude moving either Nystrom or Bouchard to a center position.

That means, short term, that Cody Almond will have to play more minutes. "I believe in him," Richards said of Almond. "I have trust in him. He's a big, strong kid and I think he's only going to get better."

Meanwhile, Guillaume Latendresse returned to practice three months after having five surgical procedures to repair two sports hernias, two problems with groin muscles and his hip. That, alone, is amazing to me.

He wore a yellow, no-contact sweater. Before practice started Richards welcomed him to the team, and his teammates banged their sticks on the ice. Gui said the welcome back was wonderful and that he felt as nervous as he did in his first NHL practice.

Now, the sobering news: Latendresse is a ways away from being 100 percent.  He is still feeling pain in his groin muscles.

"I cannot push 100 percent," he said. "The hip was good, the groin is still sore. The doctor said it's more muscle (pain) than anything else. Nothing dangerous. I just cannot push off yet. But it's getting better. That's the main point."

Another problem is Gui's conditioning. In Koivu's case, with a broken finger, he can still skate and keep his conditioning up. With all the leg-related issues Latendresse had, he wasn't able to do that. So he has a long ways to go there. Monday, for example, wasn't a particularly hard practice. But Latendresse was clearly work out after it was over.

Still, if Latendresse is able to come back relatively quickly, it would give Richards more flexibility should Almond struggle.

 

That's about it, for now. Have a good night. Koivu will meet with the press tomorrow morning, and Russo will be there.

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