It was a relatively quiet day at the Wild's Friday practice at Xcel Energy Center. Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter both practiced at full speed, working on the penalty kill as well as even-strength drills, and both said afterward that they felt good. Ditto for goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who also participated fully in the workout.
It's still uncertain whether Cooke (hip flexor) and Carter (shoulder) will play Saturday against Nashville. Both said they need to see how their injuries respond to the work they put in on Friday, and a decision won't be made until after Saturday's morning skate. Kuemper confidently said he is ready to go, after missing Wednesday's scheduled start against Boston because of a stomach ailment. Coach Mike Yeo won't reveal Saturday's starter until tomorrow morning.
Kuemper lost a little weight during his illness, but he felt better Thursday and began regaining strength. Yeo thought he lacked energy early in practice but saw him gain steam as he went along.
"I'll be ready to go,'' Kuemper said of a possible Saturday start. "I was able to get three good meals in me (Thursday) and drink lots of water. So I got most of (the lost weight) back, and I'm feeling pretty good.
"I only missed two days off the ice, so it's not like I was gone for a long time. Hockeywise, I didn’t feel rusty. You're sick, so you know your energy won't be 100 percent, but I felt good. I'll just take care of my body today, and I'll be back to 100 tomorrow.''
Cooke skated with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle in Friday's practice. The hardest part about his protracted rehab, he said, was not having a clear timeline. Cooke injured his hip in the second game of the season, continued to play until the pain became too great, then dealt with uncertainty as doctors determined the severity of the injury and laid out a course of treatment.
"When I broke my jaw, we knew it was going to be six weeks, and that’s the timeline,'' said Cooke, who called his current injury the most complicated recovery of his career. "This has been such a hit-or-miss thing. We didn’t get a real understanding of the magnitude of it until four weeks, when the MRI was clear without the swelling. That’s when we got a better understanding of what I was dealing with.''
The Wild will need all the help it can get Saturday, against a powerful and well-rounded Nashville team. The Predators are in third place in the Central Division and have the sixth-best record in the NHL. They roll four lines and feature one of the top defenses in the league, backstopped by goalie Pekka Rinne, whose 1.76 goals-against average is the lowest among regular goalies. Center Filip Forsberg is the highest-scoring rookie in the NHL (12 goals, 18 assists) and is an astonishing plus-23.
Yeo said that while his team needs to rid itself of the frustration it has been feeling, he has seen lots of good signs lately. He noted that the Wild is spending more time in the offensive zone, putting more pressure on the forecheck and creating more turnovers, and executing better as it comes out of its zone.
"If we keep playing the same way,'' he said, "we're going to get a lot of wins.''