Seventeen days after separating his left shoulder, captain Mikko Koivu rejoined the Wild for its morning skate Tuesday.

That doesn't mean his return to the lineup is imminent, but it's clearly getting closer and he's clearly ahead of the minimum four-week recovery window he feared at the time of the Jan. 14 injury in St. Louis.

"But at the end, it's a matter of when you play your first game," Koivu said. "You can be practicing and stuff, but when you play your first game, then we'll see if I'm really ahead of schedule."

Koivu skated hard before Tuesday's morning session with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson and power forward Guillaume Latendresse, who is closing in on a return from a concussion.

Wearing a harness on the shoulder, Koivu zipped pucks at the net, reached for pucks and stickhandled impressively. His shot lacked a little of his usual velocity, but all good signs, nonetheless.

"It's not 100 percent, but it feels good to see the progress from last week, you're able to shoot the puck and skate," Koivu said. "It helps conditioning-wise and helps get the feel with the puck again."

Barring a setback at Wednesday's practice, Koivu and Latendresse will travel on the upcoming road trip that starts in Colorado on Thursday. Coach Mike Yeo and both players have declined to air what their anticipated target dates are for a return.

Neither has been cleared for full contact, although it was evident late in Tuesday's skate that the Wild is pushing them harder. Both survived with no setbacks.

"It's very encouraging," Yeo said.

Harding gets the start

Even though goalie Niklas Backstrom won his last start prior to the All-Star break at Colorado, Josh Harding started Tuesday night's game against Nashville.

Harding had won two of his past eight starts; Backstrom two of his past 11. Before giving up two goals to the Avalanche, Backstrom had given up three or four goals in his previous seven starts.

Yeo said it's time for one of the goalies to seize control of the net. His plan is to start Backstrom on Thursday again in Colorado.

"Not too many times do you look at a team as being successful and they're bouncing back and forth from one goalie to another," Yeo said. "We're not just going to give it to anybody. Somebody's going to have to step up and grab it. So we'll use these next two games. That would be the perfect situation. That's what we would like to have happen."

Memory of a lifetime

As many of his teammates got to rest and relax in exotic places, rookie Nick Johnson went to Ottawa to pass pucks in the All-Star skills competition.

"Something I'll remember for sure," Johnson said. "Being in the room, seeing my Wild jersey hanging there, it was pretty cool. It was nice because I don't think I'll ever get to go again."


• Marek Zidlicky, Brad Staubitz and Mike Lundin were scratched for a third consecutive game.

"It's about winning," Yeo said. "Whether it's somebody like Zid, some of these decisions are hard to make. But we have to make these decisions for a lot of people. You feel bad about that, but there's the group that we have to consider."

• The Wild hadn't lost in regulation when scoring four goals at home since a 6-5 decision to Colorado on Dec. 1, 2008.