Carolina Hurricanes' Nathan Gerbe, right, tries to reach the puck as Minnesota Wild's Mikael Granlund takes it in the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Jim Mone, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP
Granlund has 'great practice' with Wild, is eager to return
- Article by: Michael Russo
- Star Tribune
- December 21, 2013 - 11:51 PM
NEW YORK – Based on Mikael Granlund’s effort and battle level all over the ice at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers on Saturday, the Wild’s second-line center was all but begging to return to the lineup Sunday against the New York Rangers.
Granlund has missed 11 consecutive games and 13 of the past 14 because of a concussion.
He has said he is cobweb-free and showed discernible disappointment Thursday in Pittsburgh when told he couldn’t play against the Penguins.
Still, despite Mike Yeo saying Granlund had another “great practice” Saturday, the Wild coach was not able to declare that he’ll print Granlund’s No. 64 on Sunday’s lineup sheet.
Granlund has been cleared to practice, but Yeo said the clearance for a game has not yet arrived and whether it will by Sunday, “I’m not sure yet.”
The Wild wants to be cautious with Granlund, who has a history of concussions and lasted one shift totaling 29 seconds when he returned to the lineup after two games off Nov. 27 against Phoenix.
Yeo said Granlund will return once he gets the all-clear from athletic therapist Don Fuller in consultation with team doctors.
“We’ll just keep getting him ready,” Yeo said. “Hopefully he’s in [Sunday], but we at least know he’s very close.”
Granlund was not made available to the media and General Manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t comment, but Yeo said if Granlund returns, he will likely be reunited on the second line with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.
“Those guys were so good together,” Yeo said specifically about the Granlund-Pominville chemistry. “I’d like to get right back to that and balance things out a little more.”
But Yeo said he’s more focused on the lines used in Saturday’s practice and if Granlund can play, “it’s a bonus.”
Without Granlund, the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Pominville line will be reunited. Kyle Brodziak looks like he will center Niederreiter and Dany Heatley, while Charlie Coyle will center Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine. The fourth line was centered by Zenon Konopka with Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell as his bookends.
The Wild, the NHL’s second-lowest scoring team at 2.19 goals per game, has scored 22 times in the past 14 games (1.57 a game).
The Wild can’t have a morning skate Sunday because of a women’s basketball doubleheader at Madison Square Garden, but Yeo plans to meet with several players at the team hotel to tell them it’s beyond time for them to step up offensively.
One will be Brodziak, who has gone 25 games without a goal since Oct. 28.
“He’s playing hard, he’s been more physical, he’s doing his job defensively,” Yeo said. “With where we’re at, we need somebody to jump up and take a little bit more, and he’s a guy that’s capable.”
Brodziak scored a career-high 22 goals two seasons ago. He has two in 37 games this season despite several terrific scoring chances, including many odd-man rushes and point-blank tries.
Brodziak’s line has been strong defensively. Consider that Brodziak is still plus-2 even though his line hasn’t contribute much offensively the past six weeks.
But Yeo said, “It’s not enough to just go out night after night and just play the system.”
Brodziak, who in 2009-10 went 28 games in a row without a goal, feels the pressure to start scoring.
“It is difficult, especially when the team’s struggling to score,” Brodziak said. “When you know you’re capable of contributing and you’re not, it’s tough. It’s tough. I want to score. I want to contribute and help out.
“I’ve got to find a way to get more pucks to the net and go to the net harder and hopefully get a lucky one to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”
The Wild has run into another goaltending pickle beyond Josh Harding’s absence as he alters his treatment of multiple sclerosis.
On Saturday, the Wild was expected to swap minor league goalies Johan Gustafsson and Darcy Kuemper, who has been one of the three stars in seven of his past eight Iowa starts and made 44 saves in a shutout Friday against Hamilton.
But Kuemper is banged up, so the transaction never happened. This likely means either Niklas Backstrom will have to make back-to-back starts Sunday and Monday or Gustafsson, 21, will have to make his NHL debut Monday in Philadelphia.
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