Latendresse practices, but Koivu nearer to returning

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 30, 2012 - 11:54 PM

The Wild is getting healthy.

Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press

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The last we saw of Guillaume Latendresse, he was making a surprise comeback in Winnipeg from a concussion after one practice. That was Dec. 13. The Wild power winger was clean-shaven, wore a smile.

His return lasted four periods.

Monday, with the All-Star break over, Latendresse once again made a surprise return, this time to practice after missing the past 17 games -- and 32 of the past 34.

His trademark full beard was back, too.

"That's how we know this will be a real comeback," Latendresse said. "I'll keep the dirty look."

Latendresse wasn't the only returnee Monday. Captain Mikko Koivu, who injured his left shoulder Jan. 14, skated hard and shot pucks with Latendresse before practice. If he feels fine Tuesday, coach Mike Yeo said Koivu might join the Wild during an abbreviated morning skate.

Yeo said neither player's return to the lineup is imminent.

"They're going to need some time getting acclimated to the group again and getting involved in practices and doing things at game speed and executing at that level before they can jump into the lineup," said Yeo, adding that he believes Koivu is "much closer" to playing than Latendresse.

Because of that, if Koivu travels during the upcoming three-game road trip (the Wild will return home between Games 2 and 3), Latendresse will travel, too, because Koivu's presence means strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson would accompany Koivu.

"Most of our decisions will be based on what Mikko needs right now," Yeo said.

Latendresse said he has been symptom-free for 10 to 12 days and has been skating in Minnesota with Olson and in Montreal. He has yet to be cleared for contact, but that might be coming.

"I have no headaches. I feel good. I eat good. I sleep good, so whenever I get cleared for contact, after that, why not? Why not?" Latendresse said. "Even if I wait, if my head is fragile, if it's not ready, I'm going to get hurt again. So why wait? Get in the game, and maybe the first few games, get more cautious, get the feel of the game instead of trying to be right in it.

"I think I have to be more intelligent."

What Latendresse is referring to happened Dec. 14. In his second game, he tried to test himself by checking Chicago's Nick Leddy, then Viktor Stalberg. He immediately felt woozy again.

"Maybe this time I'll come back and maybe choose my hits and not do like I did last time," said Latendresse, who was limited to 11 games last season because of multiple abdominal and hip problems. "It's more mental now. Last year was pretty hard. That's the toughest part right now to get the confidence high.

"But my shooting's there, and if my shooting's there, I think my confidence will come back really quick."

Latendresse said he is aiming to make an impact in the last 20 to 25 games, so he hopes to get accustomed to playing again a few games before that. The Wild has 33 games left.

"We're going to be patient, but at the same time, we want to push it," he said.

Etc.

• Even though Niklas Backstrom won the game prior to the All-Star break in Denver, Josh Harding will start Tuesday against the red-hot Nashville Predators because "he's played well against Nashville," Yeo said. Yeo anticipates starting Backstrom on Thursday at Colorado, where he is 5-1-1 in his past seven trips.

• The Wild recalled Chad Rau, Jed Ortmeyer and Matt Kassian. All three will play against the Predators. Defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Mike Lundin, and forward Brad Staubitz will be scratched for a third game in a row.

• Pierre-Marc Bouchard, sidelined because of a concussion since Jan. 4, has skated a "couple times," Yeo said, but "nothing too strenuous."

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