In another season, the news that defenseman Keith Ballard will be out of the Wild lineup for about two weeks would have created a major problem for Mike Yeo. Monday, the Wild coach said his team is better equipped to ride out injuries such as Ballard’s, thanks to the impressive play of the rest of the defensive corps.
Ballard has an unspecified upper-body injury and has missed two games. While Yeo stressed the injury is not related to the concussion Ballard suffered earlier this season, he said the defenseman is in too much pain to skate. Neither Ballard nor fellow defenseman Clayton Stoner, who injured a leg last week in a shootout loss at Washington, participated in Monday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center.
Yeo said Stoner is day-to-day and will skate on his own Tuesday. He could play Wednesday as the Wild is host to Toronto to open a three-game homestand, but Ballard — whose injuries have kept him out of half of the team’s 18 games — needs more time to heal.
“He’s feeling pretty sore right now, so we’re going to keep him off the ice and let him rest,’’ Yeo said of Ballard, who has four assists and is plus-6. “I definitely wish we could get him into a little bit more of a rhythm. Especially for a guy new to our group, his game when we’ve seen him in there has been really strong. He’s shown how valuable he is to this group.
“Unfortunately, these are things you have to deal with. It’s important for us that we have guys who have been able to step up. In past years, there have been times where we’ve lost guys to injuries and we’ve had a tough time getting through it. But this year, we talk about our depth, and so far, I think that’s been a story for our season.’’
Ballard missed seven games in October because of concussion symptoms, then returned for three games — and earned three assists — before being injured Nov. 5 against Calgary. Yeo praised Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba for stepping in and playing well when needed, noting that their diligence and good attitudes have ensured they are ready when called upon.
Yeo said he does not expect to call up a defenseman from the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, though he added that the team could do so on short notice if necessary.
On Veterans Day, several Wild players got the opportunity to thank military families. Prosser was among those representing the NHL Players’ Association Goals & Dreams Program at an event in Roseville, where the group donated 25 sets of hockey equipment to Defending the Blue Line.
The Minnesota-based charity helps children of active military members and veterans get involved in hockey by providing equipment, camps and assistance with fees. Monday, Wild players met with about 50 kids involved in the program.
“It’s nice to be able to give back to military families for all they do, fighting for our freedoms,’’ said Prosser, who has played in games to benefit the group. “We love seeing the kids happy after all they’ve gone through. It truly pulls at your heart.’’
A welcome break
The Wild’s three days off between Saturday’s victory and Wednesday’s game is tied for the longest such stretch it will have until the Olympic recess in February. The team will get another three-day break Dec. 24-26.
Though the Wild is on a hot streak, with seven victories in its past nine games, Yeo said the respite comes at a good time. “It will be good for our guys,’’ he said. “Sometimes, it’s not the physical rest. It’s the mental rest.
“This last little stretch felt a little like last year, when we were playing a game every second day. That can grind on you a little bit. We’ve got a busy stretch coming up [with five games in eight days], so we’ve got to take advantage of this opportunity.’’
• Forward Mike Rupp has agreed to a conditioning stint in Iowa to complete his rehabilitation from offseason knee surgery. Rupp will play against Chicago on Wednesday and against San Antonio on Friday before rejoining the Wild.
• Iowa forward Jason Zucker, who received a match penalty last Saturday for a hit to the head in a game against Rockford, will not be suspended by the AHL. The league reviewed Zucker’s hit on Rockford defenseman Adam Clendening and rescinded the match penalty. Zucker served a two-game suspension in October for a hit to the head of Oklahoma City’s Linus Omark.