Mike Yeo alleviated the fears of many Wild fans Friday by saying Zach Parise’s right knee injury isn’t the type that will keep him out for months.
While that would rule out a tear to his anterior cruciate ligament, Yeo was unable or unwilling to get more specific when providing a timeframe for just how long the Wild’s best scorer will be sidelined.
“I don’t think it’s going to be multiple weeks, I don’t think it’s going to be months. And I’m not a doctor,” Yeo said.
So Yeo ruled Parise, who had a magnetic resonance imaging exam Friday morning, out for at least the rest of the homestand Saturday against Tampa Bay and Tuesday against Winnipeg. But the coach said the Wild doesn’t “really have much idea going forward after that. We have to wait to hear. I can say it’s not going to be something that’s month-to-month. I shouldn’t guarantee that, but that’s the word that I’ve got so far.”
The hope appears to be it’s a minor injury to Parise’s medial collateral ligament, although it is the same knee that cost Parise almost the entire 2010-11 season because of a meniscus tear. And Parise was limping around noticeably Friday.
But MCL sprains vary in severity. Justin Fontaine is out four to six weeks because of a sprained MCL, but the hope is Iowa winger Michael Keranen, who just suffered an MCL injury, returns next weekend.
Yeo’s focus Friday was preparing the Wild for a bounceback game against the Lightning after he felt his team gave a winnable game away to Nashville on Thursday. Defenseman Nate Prosser is also out (back) and will be replaced by Christian Folin, who had been scratched in four consecutive games.
Christoph Bertschy will be recalled Saturday to make his NHL debut, sources say. The 21-year-old right winger from Switzerland is tied with Keranen for Iowa’s points leader with six in 12 games.
Bertschy might be slotted in on the right side of a Thomas Vanek-Erik Haula line because Yeo said fans can expect to see the top two lines he used in Friday’s practice: Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville-Mikael Granlund-Charlie Coyle.
Pominville moved to his off wing to take Parise’s spot and Coyle moved from third-line center to right wing.
“I don’t have a crystal ball that that’s the way that things are going to go, but that’s something we want to give a shot to,” Yeo said. “Just looking at Granlund and Pominville, we want somebody with straight ahead speed, somebody that can be physical, somebody that can be strong on the puck.”
Pominville has no goals in 12 games. Pominville and Granlund each have one point in the past nine games.
“The pressure of scoring has gotten to those guys and they’re drifting further away from what their game is,” Yeo said. “They’re a line that creates by doing the right things. They pressure, they work, they win one-on-one battles, they create turnovers, they play the system the right way.
“They’re successful because they have skill, but they’re successful because they have skill and they do all those things. The message to them is pretty simple: just play the game. If you score, great. If you don’t score, just make sure that at the end of the night you said you played a really good game.”
Compounding things with Parise, Fontaine and Tyler Graovac is the Wild will be right at the $71.4 million salary-cap ceiling with Bertschy’s recall. Bertschy clearly wasn’t recalled in time for Friday’s practice because the Wild wanted to save one day’s worth of his cap hit.
The next step will have to be invoking a Long-Term Injury Exception (LTI) with Graovac or Fontaine. That would allow the Wild to spend up to their salaries over the cap ceiling, but the team would have to get cap compliant again once they’re cleared to return next month.
A player is eligible for LTI if he misses 10 games and 24 days.
Yeo wants a renewed focus on defense without Parise.
Since 2013, Parise has 87 goals and 165 points in 200 games. The Wild is 9-12-1 without him in that span.
“We’re going to be tested here,” Yeo said. “Guys just have to step up and it doesn’t have to be the same guys every night. But most important we just have to play our game real well. Obviously we’re missing some key guys, but we still have a lot of real good hockey players in the lineup. Good hockey teams get through stuff like this.”
Winger Chris Porter, Parise’s pal, said he was in good spirits Friday.
“He’s handling it well so far,” Porter said. “We’re not sure exactly what the extent of the injury is, but he’s a happy-go-lucky guy. He’ll be missed if it’s long-term, but we’re hoping for the best and it’s quick. He’s a huge part of this team.”