For the second day in a row, Zach Parise participated fully in a Wild practice, moving another step closer to getting back into the lineup. But Mikael Granlund, held out of Monday's practice because of a groin injury, was absent again on Tuesday and Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said the winger is likely to miss the next four games.
Granlund has not been on the ice for a game or practice since playing in last Thursday's season opener at Detroit. Boudreau and other team officials are being careful not to rush him back, hoping that holding him out now will prevent the injury from lingering.
It's the same approach they have used with Parise, who missed the first two games and most of training camp because of an undisclosed injury.
Boudreau reiterated after Tuesday's practice at Xcel Energy Center that medical personnel, not coaches or players, will be the ones to decide when Parise and Granlund are ready.
After Thursday's game at Chicago, the Wild plays its home opener Saturday against Columbus, then returns to the road for a back-to-back set at Winnipeg and Calgary on Oct. 20 and 21.
"[Granlund] is going to miss the next four games for sure,'' Boudreau said. "It's a day at a time with him.
"I think Zach is getting closer every day. Zach is feeling a lot better right now, and usually, players get so anxious when they feel better. We all wish he was back in the lineup. When he gets the OK to play, we'll play him.''
Parise said Monday his injury is not to his back, as has been reported, but he declined to be more specific. Tuesday, he again practiced with fourth-liners Matt Cullen and Daniel Winnik during five-on-fives.
The situation leaves the Wild uncertain when it will have a full complement of 12 forwards. The team is only $206,409 under the salary cap, limiting its ability to recall a player to fill the void.
Boudreau said if Parise cannot play Thursday, he anticipates using 11 forwards and all seven defensemen, as he did in last Saturday's shootout loss at Carolina.
The Wild spent much of Tuesday's practice working on special teams and defense, hoping to smooth out two areas that were not consistent in its first two games.
The defense will get an especially stiff test Thursday against Chicago, which rang up 18 goals in its first three games and has the NHL's best goal differential (plus-12).
The Blackhawks remain a swift, strong team loaded with scorers. Boudreau said the Wild must improve its situational awareness, knowing when to take a risk and when to play it safe.
The team also worked Tuesday on slowing down opponents as they move through the neutral zone.
"We have to know where we are at each part of the game,'' Boudreau said. "We were making boneheaded plays either tied in the third period or leading in the third period of both games [last week].
"Everybody wants to score, but there are times for solid D, and there are times to go for it."
Forward Charlie Coyle and defenseman Matt Dumba emphasized the Wild defense must play as a tight unit of five, with the forwards getting sticks on pucks and the defensemen boxing out.
"We have to make sure we limit their time and space, and make it hard for them to enter our zone," Coyle said. "We can't just let them walk in. We've got to have good gaps and the forwards coming back. We've all got to be in it together, trust each other and play the way we're capable of playing."
For the birds
Boudreau bravely waded into one of the most divisive issues of the day, offering his opinion without hesitation. "Duck, duck, goose,'' he proclaimed, siding with those who reject the Minnesota variation that substitutes the mysterious gray duck for the goose.
The Vikings played the children's game to celebrate a touchdown in Monday's victory over Chicago, renewing the age-old debate between the goose boosters and the duck defenders. Nearly all of the United States falls into the goose camp, and the coach — an Ontario native — said that extends to his home country, too.
"You're close to Canada,'' he said, teasing the gray-duck crowd. "You should do everything like Canada."