Band-Aids run short, but Wild presses on

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2011 - 10:33 AM

Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are among the key forwards out with injuries, prompting more calls to Houston.

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Mikko Koivu, left, is just the latest in a steady line of Wild players to make the injury list. The team’s captain will miss Saturday’s game (injured leg).

Photo: John Ulan, Associated Press - Ap

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First, it was the Wild defensemen, one dropping after another during the first six weeks of the season.

Mike Lundin missed 23 games, Greg Zanon 16. Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner combined to miss 11.

Then, it was the goaltenders, as Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding each missed recent games.

Now, "It's our forwards' turn. I think they felt left out," coach Mike Yeo quipped after Friday's depleted practice.

Give Yeo credit for still having a sense of humor considering Saturday night when the Wild hosts the New York Islanders, it will be without four top-six forwards -- the latest being captain Mikko Koivu, who won't play because of a leg injury.

General Manager Chuck Fletcher said the Wild hopes to have Koivu back before the Christmas break, which puts his availability for the upcoming three-game road trip to western Canada in doubt.

"You see him go off the ice and you hold your breath a little bit there," Yeo said. "We've got a little bit of good news that it's not a real serious injury and he shouldn't be out for an extended period of time."

The Wild, 0-1-1 in its past two games, has overcome injuries all season, but the team's mettle will be challenged more than ever now.

"It's just another hill to climb," center Kyle Brodziak said.

Koivu was just starting to rev up. The Wild's leading scorer had points in 13 of the past 14 games (seven goals, 11 assists).

Likewise, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was playing his best hockey of the season, didn't practice again Friday and is "very questionable" to play the Islanders. Guillaume Latendresse is back on the shelf with a concussion, and Devin Setoguchi remains sidelined because of a knee injury he said came from an out-of-bounds check from former Wild defenseman Brent Burns.

Latendresse is completely shut down, while Setoguchi is receiving daily treatment and is walking better. Bouchard, who has a history of concussions, is not feeling great, Yeo said.

"Obviously you get your head smashed into the glass, you're not going to feel real good," Yeo said. "With his history, we have to make sure we're careful."

Casey Wellman, who missed Wednesday's game because of a wrist injury, is expected to return Saturday, but he had absolutely no zip on his shot during Friday's practice.

"He was kind of shooting it like me," joked Yeo.

Asked how he feels, Wellman, with a tightly taped, then iced wrist, laughed and said, "You saw me."

In order to be victorious, Yeo said, the Wild will need to outwork and outcheck opponents, not outskill them. But, in dire need of skill, the Wild recalled Fridley native Jarod Palmer, a former Miami (Ohio) University standout, from the Houston Aeros. The 25-year-old Palmer, who has good hands and is strong on the wall, is expected to make his NHL debut against the Islanders, becoming the 33rd player to dress for the Wild this season and the 10th rookie, which ties a team record only 33 games into the season.

"One of the best parts of the story for us up to this point is our ability to face adversity," Yeo said. "We've seen our share already this year and we rose to that challenge and I expect us to do the same."

The injuries made for some peculiar-looking lines in practice.

It appears Matt Cullen will move up and center the first line with Cal Clutterbuck and Dany Heatley. The third line will become the second with Darroll Powe, Brodziak and Nick Johnson. Cody Almond centered Colton Gillies and Wellman, while Warren Peters centered Brad Staubitz. Palmer may be inserted there and get power-play time.

What amazes Clutterbuck is all the injuries are to top-six forwards.

"It's definitely going to be another obstacle for us to overcome," he said. "But the way we play the game, we're not relying solely on our top six to win hockey games, which is a good thing when you run into unfortunate circumstances like this."

The example Clutterbuck used was Brodziak, who has 11 goals.

"Our top goal scorer is our 'third-line center,'" Clutterbuck said. "So it's a collective group thing. ... Sometimes teams pull together at times like this and win games people don't expect them to win. ... Hopefully that's the case.

"There's no question in my mind the guys in the lineup will work extremely hard. Our game plan is strong enough that we'll be just fine."

As defenseman Clayton Stoner said, maybe the Wild's slew of injuries is coming now instead of later.

"Hopefully, the bad luck comes now and come playoff time -- knock on wood -- we're healthy and can go on a good run," Stoner said.

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