Any hope that Zach Parise might dive into the lineup during the final three games of the Wild’s homestand was likely doused Monday when the injured winger was unable to practice.
The Wild did get one winger back from a sprained knee ligament, but it was Justin Fontaine, not Parise.
Parise didn’t aggravate the injury to his right medial collateral ligament. The original timetable given to him from his Nov. 5 injury was apparently a month, and Parise was skating by the 2 ½-week mark.
But in Saturday’s morning skate, Parise wasn’t able to do everything he wanted to do. Coach Mike Yeo said Parise, who has missed seven games, is doubtful for this week’s games against Vancouver, Winnipeg and Dallas and will continue to skate privately with Andy Ness, the Wild skating and skills instructor.
“We’ll just take things slowly,” Yeo said. “We’re not panicking here by any means. I was shocked that he was on the ice with us — well, not shocked knowing him, but we weren’t sitting around thinking that he’d be in the lineup for us Wednesday.”
Fontaine won’t be either. Monday was his first practice since he injured his left MCL on Oct. 30, and Fontaine is ineligible to play because he must remain as a long-term injury exemption for 10 games and 24 days. Wednesday will be his 10th game sidelined.
The Wild intended to ease Fontaine in Monday, but early in practice, Ryan Carter took a deflected puck to the face and rushed out of Xcel Energy Center for dental work.
“He got a little more probably than he was bargaining for today,” Yeo said of Fontaine’s workload. “That was good for Fonzie though. The only way we’re going to get him back is to get him in there and get him reps.
“Skating on your own without contact in controlled situations is one thing. You start getting out there and you have to read and react and challenge yourself a little more physically than what you’re used to, that’s how you get closer to returning.”
Fontaine said his knee feels stable, but he has to get used to wearing a brace.
“It was a good first step to be out there and skate with the guys and get the knee moving a little quicker,” Fontaine said.
So with Parise and Fontaine not ready to return and defenseman Marco Scandella looking as if he will miss a third game because of a lower-body injury, the Wild shouldn’t expect reinforcements Wednesday against the Canucks.
This is an important stretch for the Wild; it was around Thanksgiving last season that the team’s infamous Game 19-through-Game 42 skid began. Starting Nov. 22, the Wild got into a win-one/lose-one pattern for 10 consecutive games before dropping 12 of 14 games (2-8-4) between Dec. 16 and Jan. 13.
“We have to just keep building our game,” Yeo said. “Results are important and we have to make sure we keep getting them. There were lessons that we learned in some areas that I think helped us when we lost a couple games and sharpened our focus heading into our last game [a 4-0 victory over Nashville on Saturday]. We can’t now all of a sudden get soft in those areas or other areas of our game just because we won one game.
“That’s not what good teams do. You put the pedal down. We should feel pretty good and build some confidence off the way we played last game, but there’s still some areas we have to be sharper at, that’s for sure.”
The Wild has the fourth-most points among defensemen in the NHL (12 goals, 47 points), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Last game we went back to our basics and played a solid game,” right wing Nino Niederreiter said. “The key is a strong start. We played a strong first 10 minutes, got the first goal, and then moved on to the next 10 minutes and then the next 10.
“That’s how you build your game.”