Already without Zach Parise for six games and counting because of a broken foot, the Wild suffered another significant loss Saturday when it placed defenseman Jared Spurgeon on injured reserve with what sounds like a similar ailment.
Spurgeon, who played 27 minutes and was plus-3 on the Wild’s top defense pair in Thursday’s victory over Buffalo, was nailed by a shot in that game. He didn’t miss a shift, but coach Mike Yeo said Saturday that Spurgeon will miss “probably a few weeks.”
Spurgeon has 12 points and is plus-6 in 43 games and logs the third-most ice time among defensemen (21 minutes, 34 seconds a game).
Jonas Brodin, split from Suter the past two games, was back on the top pair Saturday against the Washington Capitals, while oft-scratched defenseman Nate Prosser assumed Spurgeon’s role next to Marco Scandella.
“He’s shown in the past that he can provide the kind of stability and defensive game that we need to go up against top lines,” Yeo said of Prosser. “It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Veteran defenseman Keith Ballard, a minus-12 in 17 games since missing nine games with broken ribs, returned to the lineup against Washington after being a healthy scratch against Buffalo.
Ballard said he understood why Yeo removed him Thursday.
“Since I came back from that second injury, I’ve been inconsistent,” Ballard said. “There’s been some mistakes that have cost us goals. I watched a lot of tape the last few days. A lot of the game is good, but there are a couple of mistakes that end up in the back of our net. I have to eliminate those.
“I’m not wondering where my game’s at. It’s just cleaning up and fine-tuning. When I played well at the start of the year, I wasn’t doing anything special. It was just managing the puck and managing the game and when the play’s there, make it. I’ve got to get back to that.”
Goaltender Josh Harding missed his second game and third day in a row. The only update from Yeo is Harding’s “not feeling well.”
Harding missed four games from Dec. 19-27 because he had a “minor adjustment” to his treatment for multiple sclerosis. Last year, he missed two months due to complications with his treatment of MS.
Yeo didn’t say if this is MS-related, but he sounded as if he’s expecting Harding to be out for a bit.
“Kemps [Darcy Kuemper] is a young kid and at some point if he … does get in, he’s going to have to perform,” Yeo said. “We have seen what he’s capable of doing in the past, but … I’m very comfortable with Backy [Niklas Backstrom] and with his game right now. Talking to him the other day, he’s been waiting for an opportunity, and here it is.”
If Harding misses significant time and Backstrom struggles, GM Chuck Fletcher might have to look for a goalie.
One who might be available is the Capitals’ Michal Neuvirth, 25, who has been a healthy scratch 10 consecutive games and hasn’t played since Nov. 22.
The unhappy $2.5 million goalie has asked to be traded.
In two NHL appearances this season, Kuemper has allowed six goals on 16 shots. But he is second in the AHL with a .929 save percentage.
“I wasn’t happy with the way the season was going, but I’ve finally gotten my game to where I want it,” said Kuemper, who backed up Backstrom for the second straight game Saturday.
Fontaine sits out
The Wild also played without right winger Justin Fontaine against Washington. Fontaine was “sore,” Yeo said, after an inadvertent collision with Ballard during Friday’s practice and was expected to be examined by team doctors Saturday night. Brett Bulmer was recalled and slotted into Fontaine’s spot on the Matt Cooke-Charlie Coyle line.