ST. LOUIS – After spending what felt like an eternity in Minnesota this month, the Wild was excited to hit the road Wednesday for a New Year's Eve date with the Blues to start a four-game road trip.
The Wild, mediocre on the road this season, is determined to rediscover its strong road play of last season's second half, but the team will play at least Thursday's game without Zach Parise and the entire road trip without backup goalie Darcy Kuemper, who went 4-0-2 in December with a 1.26 goals-against average.
Kuemper, who recently took a shot off the mask, stayed behind with what was termed a "mild concussion." He has been instructed to rest and do nothing that will get his heart rate up.
Parise traveled to St. Louis but won't play due to a lower-body injury. Coach Mike Yeo wouldn't disclose what's wrong with Parise, but the way he has been moving, he could have aggravated the right knee injury that caused him to miss eight games in November. He left Sunday's practice early and didn't practice Tuesday or Wednesday.
His status for the rest of the trip could be dependent on if he's able to practice Friday in Tampa.
"As much as anything, just a little maintenance right now," Yeo said. "It's something we don't have a lot of concern for, but we'd just rather take a little time here and make sure he gets fully rested, right and ready."
The Wild, 14-15-2 in the Parise era without him in the lineup, won its first three games without Parise last month, then went 1-3-1 before he returned ahead of schedule Nov. 27 against Winnipeg.
In Wednesday's practice, Yeo reassembled the Thomas Vanek-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line that played together during Parise's absence. During that November stretch, Vanek had five goals and two assists, Granlund two goals and five assists and Pominville five assists.
Charlie Coyle moved to right wing on the top line with Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu, while Erik Haula centered Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine.
"Obviously we're a better team with Zach in the lineup, but we're still good enough to win hockey games," Yeo said. "We have to make sure that guys step up. … Step up just means that you do your job effectively. We can't have bad games [Thursday]. If everybody goes out and plays a good game at least, then we've got a good chance to win the game."
The Wild plays four games in the next six nights and eight in the next 13, so with Kuemper out, Devan Dubnyk will be ridden hard. Of course, he started 38 consecutive games after arriving in Minnesota last season.
"Last year prepped me for it," Dubnyk said. "I feel pretty good about my game. The important thing in a stretch like this is to just worry about the game that's in front of you. You don't want to start looking down the schedule and looking at this tough stretch. You just take it each day and use the rest when you have a chance."
The Wild plays back-to-back Saturday and Sunday less than 24 hours apart, so there's a chance the Wild might need to dust off Niklas Backstrom, who hasn't started since Jan. 13, a 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh that was the final straw before the Dubnyk acquisition.
"Backy's getting a good workload, and if we need him, he'll have to be ready," Yeo said. "And I'm pretty sure that he will. He's obviously a pro, he's been around for a long time and I know he's been waiting for an opportunity. So no guarantees of what's going to happen, but there is a possibility."
The Wild is 5-5-5 on the road. In the past 13 games, it has held a lead for 56 minutes, 55 seconds, out of 791:09 on the road. That's shocking for a Wild team that went 15-1-1 on the road from Jan. 27-April9 last season, allowing only 23 goals.
"We were winning games 2-1, 1-0, just simple road games that might not have been the most exciting thing to watch but sometimes that's what you have to do on the road," Dubnyk said.
"It only takes one or two games to get that feeling of how you have to win on the road. We know we're more than capable of that."
Koivu looked forward to some bonding.
"It's good for the team to get on the road and spend some time just as a team," the captain said. "It was a long home stretch here."