Greetings from Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild recently finished practice. There was a 2 p.m. flight to Denver for Thursday’s game.
First, some injury updates:
--Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who sustained a lower body injury in Tuesday’s victory over Carolina, is day-to-day and will accompany the team on the two-game trip that concludes Saturday in Arizona. “He’s coming on the trip,’’ Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So, hopefully, he might get into Saturday’s game.’’
--Wing Jason Zucker, who has missed three games with a lower body injury, practiced today and Boudreau said he will play Thursday. “I feel ready,’’ Zucker said. “I feel a lot better.’’
Interestingly, he skated on a line with center Martin Hanzal and Charlie Coyle. It’s an interesting mix of size, strength and speed.
“I just wanted to try it today, see what it looked like,’’ Boudreau said. “I wanted to keep Erik Haula on left wing and practice him as much as I can so he can get better at it. … But we have so many options of moving people around, because we’ve moved it all year. So it’s not a big deal.’’
--Winger Chris Stewart was sick and missed practice, the same thing that kept him out of Tuesday’s game; Boudreau wouldn’t say whether Stewart would go on the trip.
Here are some other notes from the day:
--The other three practice lines today: Mikko Koivu centering Haula and Mikael Granlund, with Jordan Schroeder also wearing the line’s grey sweater; Eric Staal centering Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter; Joel Eriksson Ek centering Jason Pominville and Ryan White.
--Boudreau was asked a few times about how he wants to handle the final two regular season games. And while he allowed that one or two players might get a game off, he lands more on the idea of playing everyone and keeping the team’s edge entering the playoffs.
“We’d like to win ‘em,’’ he said. “We’re paid a lot of money to win hockey games. We’d like to play as well as we can. I understand that it’s the 81st and 82nd game, and players will be looking forward to playoffs. But I think it’s important to keep the structure up and make sure we maintain what we gained in the last 10 games.’’
On that note, Boudreau reiterated his belief that his team, 3-1-2 in its last six games, had righted itself after a lengthy slump.
“We’ve lost one game in regulation in the last six,’’ he said. “And it’s starting to get better. I think we’re moving our feet, we’re making plays. We’re defending a little better. But, more importantly, I think, is you can see the look in the guys’ eyes. The confidence is starting to come back. They’re not slumping their shoulders when something goes wrong. They’re digging in and getting back at it, which was pretty much a staple of the first 50 or 60 games we played.’’
--Boudreau said Darcy Kuemper will get one of the two final regular season games in net. Kuemper has struggled of late. “He’s had some time to practice,’’ Boudreau said. “Hopefully that works out for him.’’
--Parise wore his dad’s old gear when the team wore North Stars jerseys during the warmup skate Tuesday, something Boudreau clearly appreciated. “I think it was a pretty nice gesture,’’ he said. “And probably pretty emotional for him, you know?’’
--Meanwhile, the Staal-Parise-Niederreiter line was rolling Tuesday. Niederreiter had two goals and an assist, Parise a goal and two assists and Staal two assists.
Parise talked a bit about the developing chemistry on the line.
“I think we were pretty smart with the puck,’’ he said. “When we had a chance to attack off the rush we did. When we had to chip it in and go get it, we did. We held onto the puck, we didn’t try to force anything. There is still room for improvement. We can get better. But I thought it was a good game for us.
With Staal and Niederreiter having good size, Parise said the line could be a good one in the physical playoffs. “There is a lot more grabbing and holding down low,’’ Parise said. “Those are two pretty big guys on the line with me. They protect the puck really well. You have to win those pucks along the boards, in the O zone.’’
Staal said the final two games will be necessary to build more chemistry, especially with Parise, with whom he has not skated with a lot this season.
“I think it’s a chemistry that’s developing,’’ Staal said. “Zach, I’m starting to understand him, his game. For us as a line, it would be nice to continue to keep working on that mojo and chemistry we seem to have going.’’