After being in and out of former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault’s doghouse during his three injury-riddled seasons in Vancouver, defenseman Keith Ballard played against his old team Tuesday for the first time since signing with his hometown Wild.
With the Canucks strapped for cap space last offseason, Ballard was bought out of his remaining two-year, $8.4 million contract. He signed a two-year, $3 million deal with the Wild a day later.
Ballard, 31, got off to a solid start with the Wild (plus-3 his first five games) before taking a puck to the face in Buffalo on Oct. 14. He missed the next seven games because of a concussion, returned to get three assists in two games before breaking two ribs Nov. 5 against Calgary.
He missed the next nine games. He has no points and is a minus-6 in the 11 games since his return.
“Those two injuries real close together, they set me back a little bit as far as the pace of game picked up, guys got better as the season went on,” Ballard said. “It took me a few games just to get up to speed.”
Ballard is appreciative coach Mike Yeo stuck with him, especially when he could have slipped right-shot defensemen Nate Prosser (scratched in 11 consecutive games) or rookie Matt Dumba (now with Team Canada to play in the World Junior Championship) in Ballard’s spot on the right side of partner Clayton Stoner.
“This is the fresh start I wanted, and I have to take advantage of it,” Ballard said. “That was one thing that was hard in Vancouver. There was not much room for error. And I understood that. That was the way it was. It wasn’t something I complained about. It just made it tough at times. There just wasn’t room to have an off night. An off night sometimes led to three, four nights watching games in the press box.”
Center Mikael Granlund continued to feel no ill effects from his return from a concussion after a second consecutive day skating with teammates.
“He’s flying,” said Yeo, who didn’t rule Granlund out of a potential return Thursday at Pittsburgh.
Yeo said Granlund, who missed his 10th consecutive game Tuesday and 12th in 13 games, planned to get a good workout in Tuesday afternoon. If he felt good afterward, the Wild planned to “push” him in practice Wednesday before deciding his status for the Penguins game.
Yeo said Granlund has been missed, both because of how much he aids the second power-play unit and because “secondary scoring since he’s been out has dropped down.”
The Wild is essentially 6-6-1 without Granlund with 20 goals scored (1.53 a game). Granlund has 12 points in 24 games..
Just a scare
There was a scare during Tuesday’s morning skate when goalie Josh Harding anguished in pain after being struck by a shot near his throat from rookie Erik Haula. Harding left the ice, and goalie Niklas Backstrom prepared as if he was going to start against Vancouver.
Harding, the NHL’s goals-against average leader, returned after five minutes — much to the relief of the pale-looking Haula.
“I’m pretty sure he wet his pants,” teammate Zenon Konopka joked.