Surprise, surprise, but despite only one full practice and the Wild suddenly sputtering with one victory in the past five games, Zach Parise has gone from “doubtful” for this weekend’s games to potentially finagling himself into the lineup Friday against the Winnipeg Jets.
Parise, who sprained a knee ligament Nov. 5, said his right knee made great progress this week. He felt “comfortable doing everything” during the Wild’s Thanksgiving morning practice and was hopeful he could play in Friday’s matinee.
Parise said the decision would depend on how his knee responded the rest of Thursday and after a night’s sleep. A “group decision” will be made with team doctors, trainers and coaches, but if this is any indication, Parise skated on a regular line Thursday.
While keeping the Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line intact, coach Mike Yeo scrambled his second and third lines. During 3-on-2 drills, Parise skated with Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, and Erik Haula centered Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. The fourth line was Chris Porter, Ryan Carter and Kurtis Gabriel as Christoph Bertschy was reassigned.
Justin Fontaine will miss his 11th game Friday because of a sprained knee but is likely to return Saturday against the Dallas Stars. Whether Jordan Schroeder plays Friday or perhaps is returned to AHL Iowa this weekend could depend on whether Parise returns.
“We have a plan if he plays and we have a plan if he doesn’t play, so we don’t know which one we’re going with yet,” Yeo said.
Yeo said Parise has to feel completely confident he’s physically ready to play, and as much as anything else that has to do with conditioning and timing. But Parise’s appearance in Thursday’s practice noticeably deepened the Wild’s lineup.
“[Thursday] we just experimented with something [in terms of lines]. We don’t even know if we’ll go with that necessarily or not,” Yeo said. “But adding one player gives you so many more options. … We’re getting close to being healthy up front. And that is something I think that we’ve felt lately.”
Coyle was typically understated about potentially playing alongside Parise, saying, “We’ll see how it goes, good touches out there, good reps, we’ll see.”
Parise, Coyle’s locker-room stall neighbor, finally chimed in, “Don’t be too excited, Charlie.”
Parise’s return should make things easier for the Koivu line, which has taken the brunt of the tough matchups with the talented scorer hurt. Lately, the trio have faced the opponent’s top defensive forwards and defensemen.
“It gets us a little closer to having the other team pick their poison, who they want to match up against, and we think when we’re healthy that we’ve got a pretty deep group up front with a number of guys that are capable of contributing offensively,” Yeo said.
Parise said he’s not rushing back into the lineup to provide a boost for a team that started 3-0 without him but is 1-3-1 in its past five. He has been impressed with how hard the Wild has played despite its depth being severely tested with injuries to him, Fontaine, Marco Scandella and Tyler Graovac and several players being sick the past two weeks.
“I’m just hoping to get back to form as quick as possible and go from there,” Parise said. “I’m not thinking I need to score right out of the gate, I just want to play. … We’re still right in the hunt for everything. We’ll be fine.”
Thursday was the first time Parise talked publicly since being kneed on his first shift by Nashville’s James Neal three weeks ago. He called the hit “unnecessary, but [those hits] happen a lot.”
He left that game briefly, returned and played the rest of the period before leaving for good.
“That was probably stupidity,” Parise said of playing on the injury. “But I didn’t hear a pop or anything, I just felt my leg start to burn, so I figured that wasn’t a real good sign, but as that went away, that’s why I thought I could keep going. But I didn’t feel very good after that.
“Once you get the diagnosis, I wasn’t concerned about the what-ifs. It was more, ‘Here’s what we’ve got, this is what we’re looking at for recovery,’ and that’s it. I think I was fortunate for what it was as opposed to what it could’ve been, but I didn’t sit and think that this could’ve been a season-ending one.”