LOS ANGELES – Nearly two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak stalled the Wild's season, the team will be back in action tonight against the Kings – its first game since Feb.2.
"We're not that far removed from playing hockey games that our legs are going to be an issue," coach Dean Evason said. "It'll be more hands and get your head into the game quickly when the puck's dropped."
With five players still in the NHL's COVID protocols, and another three recently released but not ready to play, the Wild will rely on its taxi squad and minor-league call-ups in its return.
Defenseman Matt Dumba is also back, after getting hurt on Jan. 30 and missing a pair of games before the season was paused, and winger Kevin Fiala is done serving a three-game suspension for boarding the Kings' Matt Roy in the most recent game between the two teams. Winger Mats Zuccarello will make his season debut after offseason arm surgery delayed his start.
"He's going to play on the power play," Evason said of Zuccarello. "Obviously, we've been off for a while, so we anticipate playing four lines, six 'D,' and hopefully rolling as much as we possibly can. So, I think everybody's going to get ample opportunity to play and ample ice time, and Zuccy will be no different."
This will also be the first Wild game of the season for defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Louie Belpedio, and fellow blue liner Dakota Mermis will be suiting up for his first game as a member of the Wild. Another defender, Calen Addison, will be making his NHL debut.
The Wild is expecting to get three more regulars back for the team's next game Thursday at Anaheim.
Defenseman Ian Cole and forwards Nick Bonino and Nico Sturm accompanied the team to California after getting released from the protocols on Monday. They skated Tuesday morning at Staples Center, along with injured captain Jared Spurgeon, and the Wild does have a plan to fly out more players once they're released from the protocols.
Before Tuesday's game, the NHL announced the team's revised schedule after its hiatus and the team's current road trip will be extended by two games with stops in San Jose and Colorado.
The Wild will take on the Sharks Feb. 22, a game that was originally scheduled for April 23. Then the team will face the Avalanche on Feb. 24, a make-up game for the Feb.4 contest that was postponed.
The two home games against Arizona Feb. 6 and 7 that were pushed back while the Wild's season was suspended are now March 16 and April 14. St. Louis will now visit Minnesota March 25 and April 12 after the Feb. 9 and 11 games were also previously delayed.
As for the game the Wild was supposed to play in Los Angeles this past Saturday, that will now be April 23. And instead of playing at St. Louis on April 11, the Wild will now see the Blues a day earlier on April 10.
Zach Parise-Joel Eriksson Ek-Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway-Marcus Johansson-Kirill Kaprizov
Marcus Foligno-Nick Bjugstad-Ryan Hartman
Mats Zuccarello-Luke Johnson-Gerald Mayhew
Ryan Suter-Calen Addison
Dakota Mermis-Matt Dumba
Matt Bartkowski-Louie Belpedio
3: Wild wins over the last four games vs. the Kings.
2: Victories by the Wild at Staples Center this season.
10: Points in 11 games for winger Jordan Greenway.
99: Career goals for center Nick Bjugstad.
5: Points for winger Zach Parise over his past seven games.
About the Kings:
Los Angeles is at the bottom of the West Division with a 4-6-3 record. The Kings last played Thursday, a 6-2 win over the Sharks. Before that, they had dropped five straight games. Captain Anze Kopitar leads the team in points with 17. Winger Dustin Brown's six goals are the most on the Kings.