As the Wild prepared for tonight's game against Los Angeles, two players who won't be in the lineup made progress toward a return. Defenseman Jonas Brodin and winger Matt Cooke both skated Wednesday morning, and coach Mike Yeo said Brodin could be ready to play Friday at Dallas.

Brodin has missed six games because of an illness believed to be mumps. Yeo said his conditioning is not quite up to speed, but the coach doesn't think he's far off. "He's much, much better,'' Yeo said of Brodin. "He looks like a different guy right now. There's a chance we could have him Friday.'' 

Cooke has been out for 12 games with a hip flexor injury. He has begun skating without full gear and will need much more work to get into game shape. "At least he's touching the ice,'' Yeo said. "He's feeling better, but he's got a long way to go just to get him back up to speed.''

Though the Wild is coming off a 2-1 road trip in which it straightened out some problems that had plagued it away from home, Yeo cautioned against feeling too satisfied. The Kings--despite having a 1-4-4 road record and the fewest road wins in the Western Conference--are a balanced and solid team with no clear deficiencies.

"It's never an easy game (against the Kings),'' Yeo said. "And it's not necessarily a fun one, either, especially if you're not executing, you're not performing the way you need to. It will certainly be a good test tonight.

"I felt like (the Tampa Bay game, a 2-1 loss) was a bit of a step in the right direction. Despite losing that game, I felt there were a lot of parts of the game that looked right. (In the 4-1 victory over Florida), we took another step in the right direction, a bigger step. Our challenge is right now, coming off that trip--a feel-good win--we can't just assume things are going to start where we left them in Florida. We have a lot of work to do. We're not where we need to be, and this is a great team we're playing tonight. We've got to make sure we're ready.''

Today is defenseman Keith Ballard's 32nd birthday, and he is expected to skate in his 600th NHL game. The Baudette native will celebrate with family members coming in for Thanksgiving weekend. Ballard said the last 100 games have taken their sweet time, as he lost significant time to injuries and was a healthy scratch by Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault during Ballard's final season with the Canucks.

The former Gopher has played the past 54 games in a Wild sweater since being signed as a free agent in the summer of 2013. He has played only nine games this season after the mumps sidelined him, but he's grateful to still be on the ice.

"I enjoy coming to the rink,'' he said. "I have genuine excitement coming to the rink and seeing the guys. That’s the fun part about playing--getting to know guys and developing those bonds and close friendships. That’s what makes it fun going to the rink for me.

"It's gone by fast. When you're young, everyone says, 'Enjoy it. It goes by fast.' These 10 years have gone pretty quickly for me.''

RACHEL BLOUNT