Backstrom, Ballard practice but not expected to play for Wild in Winnipeg

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2013 - 12:33 AM
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Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, center, of Finland, leaves the NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

– Neither Niklas Backstrom nor Keith Ballard cared to waste any energy on frustration or self-pity. Backstrom, the Wild goalie, was inching his way through the uncertain aftermath of a concussion after taking a nasty hit earlier this month. Ballard, who has been sidelined for all but nine games this season, was eager to recover from an upper-body injury and resume his place among the Wild’s defensive corps.

Both focused all their attention on healing, and that helped them rejoin the Wild for Friday’s practice in Winnipeg. Though neither is expected to play Saturday against the Jets, their presence on the ice at MTS Centre had coach Mike Yeo smiling on a bitterly cold day. Yeo said Backstrom looked quick, slick and “really good’’ in his first practice since his injury on Nov. 13, and he added that Ballard is “not far off’’ from getting into the lineup again.

Josh Harding is expected to start in goal Saturday. Backstrom took plenty of shots in Friday’s workout and was in good spirits afterward, following several days of slowly working his way back from what he said was his first concussion.

“It felt pretty good. We’ll see how it goes,’’ Backstrom said. “Today was probably the toughest day, when you skate with the guys for a full skate. So we’ll see how everything feels after this.

“This is my first one, so I didn’t know what to think or how you should feel or what’s going on. It’s easier when you have a broken bone or whatever; they tell you it takes two weeks for you to heal. But with concussions, you never know what’s going to happen.’’

Backstrom didn’t want to offer an opinion on the hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri that injured him and earned Kadri a three-game suspension. Instead of stewing, he chose to focus on his recovery — just as Ballard chose not to sulk after his latest injury.

Six games into the season, Ballard suffered a concussion and sat out for seven games. He returned in early November, played three games and was again sidelined because of a different upper-body injury. Though Ballard had been playing very well during his abbreviated stints, he has refused to lament his bad fortune while missing seven more games.

“I think I’ve played three games in the past five or six weeks,’’ said Ballard, who has four assists and is plus-6. “But I’m not going to sit and pout about it or get down about it. I’m comfortable with where I fit in and where I can help this team.’’

Ballard has been skating by himself for the past week and said he needs to log a few more practices to prepare for the physicality and pressure he will experience in games.

The Wild still is missing forward Torrey Mitchell, who sat out Wednesday’s victory at Ottawa because of a leg injury and is not in Winnipeg. Yeo said Mitchell could join the team for Monday’s game in St. Louis, but as of Friday, he does not expect that to happen.

Deuce for Dumba

Matt Dumba will play in Winnipeg, marking the first time since late October that the rookie defenseman has played two games in a row.

Dumba was paired with Clayton Stoner in Friday’s practice. Yeo liked what he saw from Dumba on Wednesday as the Wild beat Ottawa 4-3, and Dumba is familiar with the Jets. He has played in both of the Wild’s regular-season games against them this season and scored a goal against the Jets in a preseason game.

“Certainly when we’re playing in high-pace games, he helps us with his skating ability, he helps us with his execution and his puck movement,’’ Yeo said of Dumba, who has played in 12 of 23 games this season. “He’s playing against a team that he’s played a number of times already, including preseason, so hopefully that gives him a little bit of comfort there. We have to give him a chance to get a couple games in a row and try to get in a bit of a rhythm here and see what he can do.’’

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