Cam Talbot is still on the mend, recuperating from an injury that's kept him idle ever since he suffered it at the Winter Classic.
But when the goaltender does get back in action, potentially next weekend during a back-to-back vs. Chicago, Talbot won't just be facing an opportunity to suit up before the NHL All-Star Game after being chosen to represent the Central Division.
He'll also be on the brink of an important second half with the Wild, a drive to decide the team's playoff fate that will either validate or discredit the team's earlier surge.
"You could see from the start of the season, when we were a healthy team, we were right up there with the top teams in the league," Talbot said. "I believe that's where this team belongs."
Wild leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov and Talbot found out they would participate in the All-Star Game when rosters for the midseason showcase on Feb. 5 in Las Vegas were revealed on Thursday, news that came amid a hiatus for Talbot.
Although he hasn't played since Jan. 1 at Target Field, his 15 wins still rank near the top of the NHL leaderboard and most of the goalies ahead of Talbot have made more starts. This is the 34-year-old's first All-Star Game selection.
"You're always trying to push yourself to be better and finding new ways to improve every season," he said.
This season he also has to rebound from that injury that pulled him out of the Winter Classic.
Talbot was hurt with about five or six minutes left in the second period, an injury he said he didn't feel at first but one he ultimately couldn't play with. He was replaced for the third period by backup Kaapo Kahkonen with the Wild trailing the Blues 6-2, and the team went on to lose 6-4.
"I've never had this injury, so it could've been the 12 days between games, the minus-20 forecast," said Talbot, who's in the second season of a three-year, $11 million contract. "A perfect storm, I guess. I honestly don't know if it would've happened either way. I can't really speak to that. Just a disappointing experience for it to happen when it did."
Recently, Talbot has been skating, even joining the Wild on the ice, and he's hoping to target a return in the coming days. Overall this season, he's 15-8-1 with a 3.00 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
"It's one of those things you don't want to rush back from," Talbot said. "You want to make sure when you come back, you're back for good. I'm feeling good every day, progressing every day."
Without Talbot and a host of other regulars sidelined by injury or COVID-19, the Wild has admirably persevered to win three in a row after a 7-3 dispatch of the Ducks on Friday at Xcel Energy Center.
And more help should be on the way, with the Wild activating defenseman Alex Goligoski from the COVID list on Saturday and reassigning defenseman Dakota Mermis to Iowa in the American Hockey League. Defenseman Calen Addison, forward Matt Boldy and goalie Andrew Hammond also were shifted to the taxi squad. The Wild's next game is Monday afternoon at Colorado.
Until everyone is healed up — winger Nick Bjugstad, defenseman Jonas Brodin and captain Jared Spurgeon are still injured and center Joel Eriksson Ek is out with COVID-19 — the Wild's potential is to be determined.
An eight-game win streak in November and December that overlapped with the team seizing the No. 1 seed in the NHL previewed what is possible when the team is mostly healthy. Whether the Wild is capable of an encore will start to become clear as Talbot and others rejoin the lineup.
"Right now we're just going through a stretch that every team goes through during a season," Talbot said. "You get a few injuries and obviously right now with COVID and stuff like that. The best teams in the league come out of it on the other side stronger, and I believe this team can do that."