Just when it seemed the band was getting back together …
The Wild are almost at full strength — a rarity for an NHL team — but first-line winger Mats Zuccarello came away from Wednesday's victory over Tampa Bay with an upper body injury that will keep him out on Saturday in Buffalo and Sunday against St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center.
Brandon Duhaime, who hasn't played since Nov. 23 because of an undisclosed upper body injury, will return to action Saturday.
Coach Dean Evason moved Matt Boldy to replace Zuccarello on a line with center Sam Steel and Kirill Kaprizov. Duhaime takes Boldy's spot with center Freddy Gaudreau and winger Ryan Hartman.
"It's obviously a tough loss for the team — we're really going to miss Zucc," Kaprizov said through an interpreter. "In terms of playing with Boldy, we've had plenty of times together out on the ice and we've played together before."
Evason said Zuccarello, the team's second-leading scorer, will accompany the team on next week's East Coast road trip, so the injury seems short-term.
"Don't want to see anyone get injured, but it happens and we feel very comfortable with the group we have," Evason said. "People can step up and step in in different situations … obviously a little different look on the power play as well, so yeah, looking forward to the challenge."
Rarin' to go
Duhaime has missed the past 18 games, a stretch where the Wild won 13 games.
"It's tough seeing them without you," said the 25-year-old, who missed only two games last season. "You hate watching it, you hate not being a part of it.
"I want to get in there and help the team as best I can and hope we can continue this winning mentality."
Evason said Duhaime should simplify the game on his return — "Any time you have been off, haven't played, haven't been in the lineup, you just want to simplify. Get pucks in, get a few bumps and skate."
Duhaime realizes he'll have to make a quick adjustment to NHL speed.
"Probably the pace, the touches, getting the flow to it — the cardio was probably a little easier to keep up with in the gym, you can always work on that stuff," he said. "Getting into game shape, feeling the puck, that was the hardest part."
One of 32
Kaprizov, who leads the team in goals (22) and assists (25), was named an All-Star Thursday when the NHL picked one player from each team for the Feb. 4 game in Sunrise, Fla.
There was no NHL All-Star Game when Kaprizov was the league's rookie of the year in 2020-21, but he played in last year's event in Vegas.
"It's an awesome experience," he said Friday. "It's really good to be able to connect with all the players and spend time with them and get to know them. … Just a really good time to hang out and to get to meet some of the guys and spend a fun time together."
Evason said Kaprizov has become more well-rounded as he continues to improve.
"His defensive game is way better than it's ever been since we first saw him," Evason said. "His commitment, his willingness to learn, to accept coaching and teaching is pretty exciting for us as a coaching staff. A superstar like that that's willing to do whatever it takes to help the hockey club win is a tremendous asset."
Backup goalie Filip Gustavsson, who left Wednesday's victory late because of illness, did not travel to Buffalo. Zane McIntyre was called up from Iowa and will back up Marc-Andre Fleury against the Sabres.
The 30-year-old McIntyre played eight games for the Boston Bruins in 2016-17 and has a 3.32 goals-against average in 15 games for Iowa, where he splits time with 2021 first-rounder Jesper Wallstedt.