SAN JOSE, Calif. – After a long flight and a one-hour practice Friday, Zach Parise pronounced his left foot pain-free and ready for another game Saturday night. Although not a surprise, that development counts as much-needed good news for the Wild on the injury front.
Other news is less encouraging, but probably also not a surprise. Center Mikko Koivu and defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who have been out since early January, joined the team on the four-game road trip but didn’t practice. They skated individually after the team workout, but coach Mike Yeo didn’t sound optimistic about seeing either player in uniform during a trip that begins with Saturday night’s game in San Jose and ends Feb. 1 in Calgary.
“Mikko won’t play on this trip, I’m sure, and Spurge I’m not sure about,” Yeo said.
Koivu has missed 10 games after surgery on his ankle. Spurgeon has missed nine games after taking a puck to the foot. If the players don’t return to the lineup in the next week, the Wild has two home games remaining before the three-week Olympic break begins Feb. 7.
Parise said he felt no aftereffects from Thursday night, when he returned to action against Chicago after missing 14 games because of a broken left foot. He logged 19:34 of ice time, tops among the team’s forwards, and said Friday that he fully intended to jump right back to his normal role instead of working in slowly.
“Painwise, it felt really good,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling any of the stuff that I was before when I got hurt, so that’s a good sign. Good first couple steps. Timing was a little off, but that will come with playing a few more games.”
Harding left behind
Goaltender Josh Harding also did not make the trip because he’s making changes in his treatment for multiple sclerosis. Niklas Backstrom will serve as Darcy Kuemper’s backup Saturday. At least for the time being, that designation is less a matter of Backstrom’s recovery from a lower-body injury and more a matter of Kuemper playing like a front-line goalie.
For all their bad luck with injuries, the Wild has had a bit of good fortune in not being scheduled to play on back-to-back nights from Jan. 12 (the first of Kuemper’s six consecutive starts so far) through the end of the pre-Olympic schedule Feb. 6. With no pressing need for a backup, the job could be Kuemper’s as long as he continues to produce, although Yeo was sticking with the old one-game-at-a-time standard.
“Obviously he’s feeling confident, and we want to make sure we keep trying to do whatever we can to help him keep his confidence,” Yeo said. “At the same time, with a young kid you’ve got to make sure they stay grounded enough and remember what they’re doing to make them feel that way. … We’ve got a young group, and we’ve seen if we get too far ahead of ourselves, we get ourselves in trouble.”
Kuemper had to borrow Backstrom’s mask for a portion of the game Thursday after his broke. That mask didn’t fit too well on him, he said, because it is customized to Backstrom’s face. For an added degree of difficulty, Kuemper’s own spare mask was still in Iowa. He believes it’s being shipped to California.
The Wild has won eight of 11 games in January. But the road gets tougher now. Minnesota is eighth in the Western Conference playoff race but has the second-worst road record in the conference.
This trip begins with the NHL’s most difficult double whammy: The Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks are the best home teams in the league by percentage. San Jose is 18-2-3, Anaheim is 21-1-2.
“We have to initiate more,” Parise said. “Sometimes, especially on the road, we’ve become a little passive and almost way too reactionary to the game rather than trying to dictate the pace and control the puck.”
• The Wild’s 2-1 victory over Chicago was its most watched game of the season locally. The Fox Sports North telecast drew a 4.9 rating, meaning 85,652 households watched in the Twin Cities market.