LOS ANGELES – The Wild is still dealing with the fallout from a COVID-19 outbreak, with key regulars missing from the team's return to action Tuesday nearly two weeks after the NHL suspended the Wild's season at the beginning of the spread.
But reinforcements are on the way.
Defenseman Ian Cole and forwards Nick Bonino and Nico Sturm accompanied the team to California on Monday and although they didn't play against the Kings at Staples Center, they are expected to be back Thursday when the team's road trip continues in Anaheim.
Already, the three have been on the ice with the Wild — taking part in the morning skate ahead of Tuesday's game. They'll also have the chance to practice Wednesday before another tuneup Thursday morning. Captain Jared Spurgeon, who's out with an upper-body injury, also skated Tuesday but didn't play.
Five players remain in the NHL's COVID protocols, with Jonas Brodin, Brad Hunt, Victor Rask, Carson Soucy and Cam Talbot unavailable.
Coach Dean Evason said players are clearing the protocols at different times and there is a plan to have players join the team on this trip — which is now a five-game trek instead of just three.
The NHL has rescheduled the six games that were postponed while the Wild was idle and the league made two other adjustments, changes that tacked on a pair of games to the team's current road trip.
After finishing a two-game set in Anaheim, the Wild will travel to San Jose to play the Sharks on Monday (a game that was originally set for April 23). Then, the team will go to Colorado to face the Avalanche on Feb. 24, a makeup game for the Feb. 4 contest that was pushed back.
The back-to-back home games against Arizona that were Feb. 6 and 7 are now March 16 and April 14, and the other two home games vs. St. Louis on Feb. 9 and 11 that were delayed are April 12 and March 25. And the road game the Wild was supposed to play in St. Louis on April 11 has been moved up a day to April 10.
As for the game in Los Angeles that was scheduled for last Saturday, that will now be April 23.
With a handful of players still in the protocols, not ready to return or hurt, the team had five players who were to make their Wild season debuts Tuesday — including defenseman Calen Addison, who was playing in his first NHL game.
Defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Louie Belpedio were two other additions to the blue line, along with Dakota Mermis. The game was Mermis' first with the Wild after he signed a one-year, two-way contract in the offseason. He split 20 previous NHL games between Arizona and New Jersey.
"He's an intense guy," Evason said of Mermis. "He's always engaged in practice. He's clearly played in the NHL. He's played a lot of hockey, a lot of pro hockey. So he's somebody that we don't expect to be intimidated by the setting."
Up front, winger Mats Zuccarello was back after missing the first 11 games following offseason arm surgery.
The game was also the first for winger Kevin Fiala since he was suspended three games for boarding the Kings' Matt Roy on Jan. 28 and the first for forwards Marcus Foligno, Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad and Joel Eriksson Ek since getting released from the COVID list.
"Now I have the antibodies, so I guess you got that for peace of mind," said Bjugstad, who had some flu-like symptoms.
Eriksson Ek was on a roll before the season stopped, boasting a team-high five goals.
"I didn't do a lot," he said of his time in the protocols. "Just tried to recover, tried to get healthy."
This is the second time this season backup goalie Kaapo Kahkonen has wound up in the starter's position unexpectedly.
He previously took over for five games after Talbot suffered a lower-body injury.
"You've got to be ready for anything, especially a season like this with the circumstances with COVID," Kahkonen said. "It's even more important. I'm just trying to do that."