Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who's missed the past 19 games with a shoulder injury, is getting closer to a return.
Six days after returning to practice for the first time, a span that only included two full practices until today, one morning skate and one extremely optional morning skate, Zidlicky wore a normal-colored sweater in today's practice.
"The players were happy because they knoew they can hit him," coach Todd Richards quipped. It's another step."
After practice, Zidlicky went through more battle drills with Brad Staubitz and Jared Spurgeon. Afterward, Zidlicky said his shoulder was feeling better, but "it's not ready. I feel comfortable right now, but it's still not ready yet. I dont want to say a couple more days, but we will see. I'd like to play tomorrow, but ... ."
If I had to guess, and it's just a guess, we could be looking at Friday's game vs. Anaheim or Sunday's now 11:30 a.m. game on NBC vs. Detroit. Even though Zidlicky opened the door at one point when I was talking to him about maybe waking up feeling good and playing tomorrow, I'd think the Wild will give him a few more days. After all, then you at least get Thursday's practice and don't risk him in back-to-back games vs. Vancouver or at Chicago.
"The minute he says he's confident, 100 percent, then we'll get him back in the lineup," Richards said. "But I dont know when that'll be."
Richards then will have an interesting lineup decision to make. Who comes out on the blue line? Does he go with seven defensemen on nights like, say against, Detroit, when maybe you don't need a rough and tumble guy like Brad Staubitz?
I still think initially Cam Barker will be the odd man out, although I've got to say Barker seems to have responded and played well since Richards seemed to indicate a week or so ago that Barker would be the odd guy out. I thought Barker was great last game against St. Louis defensively. He also skated the puck up ice, shot the puck, was engaged emotionally.
But you know Jared Spurgeon's not coming out, nor should he. The kid's playing great. And Clayton Stoner has been incredibly consistent since Zidlicky was injured Dec. 29.
In his last 18 games, Stoner's a plus-9 and has had one game where he was a minus (minus-1).
The Wild hosts the Canucks tomorrow. The NHL leaders have lost four in a row to the Wild in St. Paul, with the Wild outscoring them 21-6. The Wild's power play has been 9 for 18 those four games.
Roberto Luongo is starting tonight in St. Louis, so that may mean Cory Schneider starts tomorrow. The Wild beat Schneider 4-0 during last month's visit, but Luongo's been pulled his past three visits here and stinks at the X.
Niklas Backstrom will start. He's 5-2 in his past 7 starts with a .956 save percentage. Richards said he'll decide after the game whether Backstrom starts in Chicago on Wednesday or Jose Theodore.
The Canucks are decimated on the blue line with Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler all out and winger Alex Burrows is a game-time decision tonight in St. Louis after blocking a shot vs. Calgary on his heel. He's getting a CAT scan this afternoon.
Peter Forsberg's two-game comeback with Colorado has ended. I know, shocking. He'll retire this afternoon from hockey, at least, allegedly.
You do have to wonder what type of distraction Forsberg provided the Avalanche. It was announced he was going to attempt a comeback Jan. 21. That day, the Avs were 24-17-6. Today, they're 25-25-6 and in 14th in the conference.
I know they weren't playing well before, and they've gotten horrendous goaltending and key injuries to guys like Tomas Fleischmann. But before that big game in Colorado earlier this month, all the questions to players at the morning skate revolved Forsberg, not their big game that night against the Wild. Just seems like this Forsberg arrival came exactly around the time the Avs started to skid.
Anyways, just a shame this is how it ends though. Forsberg's one of the great two-way forwards of our time, just a smart, super-skilled player who sadly ran into injury problems that shortened his career. When he was in his hayday, there were few players more of pleasure to watch.
Lastly, Mario Lemieux, the owner of the Penguins, came out with this statement yesterday:
"Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.
"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.
"We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action."
This is regarding the Islanders' despicable display Friday when Matt Martin sucker-punched Max Talbot from behind in retaliation for Talbot concussing Blake Comeau in the previous meeting and goon Trevor Gillies head-hunting Eric Tangradi, then trash-talking him from a few feet away while he was down injured.
Martin got four games, Gillies got nine and the Isles got a $100,000 fine for inflaming the situation.
Look, I get Lemieux's emotional and ticked off. He's probably frustrated also because GM Garth Snow should have got hit hard in the wallet.
He's the guy who called up a bunch of thugs like Micheal Haley specifically for that game, so it was obvious what was going to happen.
But Lemieux loses me when he talks about "safety of our players" when he employs guys like currently-suspended Matt Cooke, who is a notorious head and knee hunter. I've watched Cooke play enough to know what he's all about.
I have watched him skate toward guys like Nick Schultz and bend down with the aim of taking out his knees.
So, to me, the statement's a bit hypocritical.
But at least Cooke can also play the game. He can skate, play a regular shift, contribute in areas.
But I've got no use for guys like Gillies, who plays 2 1/2 minutes a game and just looks to hurt people. And before you give me the "this from a guy who covered Derek Boogaard" nonsense, Boogaard did not try to hurt people. It did happen, yes. That comes with a 6-9 (on skates), 275-pound guy running around. But Boogaard never would stand over a guy he injured and chirp him.
Gillies has zero respect for his opponents and can't even play a fourth-line shift.
There's been too much mayhem in games lately. Goalie fights, dirty hits, sucker punches and now line brawls. This has got to stop, so maybe the league should have come down harder on Gillies and Martin. After all, they're minor-leaguers. Give them 20-game suspensions and send a real message. Throw the book at Snow, who created this mess.
So while I appreciate Lemieux's frustrations and I'm sure the above thinking is what led to his statement, if this is what he meant, I wish he just would have said it.
But by transitioning into the "safety of our players" baloney, sorry, you can't preach that and employ a guy like Cooke, who sends players to the trainer's table over and over again.
On an aside, a lot of people have asked me if I thought Blues coach Davis Payne called time there with 3.6 seconds left to tell the Blues to fight the Wild the other night.
I get it was 3-1. I get it was a weird timeout. I get a fight erupted.
But if Payne did that, I think he'd be sending out Winchester and Janssen, not Backes and Steen and McDonald and Oshie.
Sorry, don't buy it. I think emotions just boiled over from a second straight loss in 24 hours to the same team.