It was an optional practice for the Wild on Friday at Xcel Energy Center. But, of course, Zach Parise was one of 12 skaters on the ice, working on his puck-handling, taking part in extensive drill work, trying to get to the point where he feels like himself on the ice.
It is a process.
Parise was off to a strong start when he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Nov. 2 against Nashville. But the eight-game layoff applied a layer of rust Parise is still trying to work off. And even though he knew he’d have to go through this, it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “The hard part is I felt really good about the way I was playing before I got hurt, just the way I was skating, the way I was handling the puck. When you come back you want to pick up where you left off, and that’s hard to do. It’s been a lot of work to try to get back to where I was.”
Parise has no goals and one assist in the four games since his return. This after getting seven goals and two assists in his first seven games.
“I feel that, outside the Chicago game, I haven’t had much of a chance to control the puck very much,” said Parise, referring to Tuesday’s 2-1 victory at Chicago. “I’m trying to get more comfortable with that, move my feet a little more. I think a couple times I’ve been getting the puck standing still a little bit. I’m trying to get in the habit of getting the puck and skating rather than just stopping and waiting.”
He and Wild coach Mike Yeo agree Parise was making steady progress in his return, his play improving from one game to the next through the Blackhawks game. But there was a bit of a step back in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Toronto.
“I thought in the Chicago game Zach looked like Zach,” Yeo said. “And I thought the last game there was a little more of a sign of him not being quite there yet. I think there will be moments when he’s completely there. I think there will be games where he’s completely there. And certainly he’s a guy where his competitiveness and determination will make it a quicker process than it might be for others.”
The good news? Linemates Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville have played well of late. And the Wild is about to play back-to-back games against Colorado, a team that has been a tonic for Parise.
In 15 games against the Avalanche as a member of the Wild, Parise has nine goals and 10 assists. And that doesn’t include three goals and seven assists in seven playoff games vs. Colorado in the 2014 playoffs. Parise had an opening-night hat trick when the Wild rallied from down three goals to win 5-4.
At the start of the season the Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line was one of the best going. But lately things have dried up; Zucker has no points in six games and Niederreiter has no goals in seven.
To Yeo, the key is hitting the reset button and getting the line to play the way it did when the season started. “At the beginning of the year that was a group that was not focused on scoring goals,” Yeo said. “I think they were focused on just playing their game. They were getting a lot of zone time, getting momentum off of that. There was a lot more movement in the offensive zone as opposed to right now. I feel we’re getting a lot of pucks and we’re trying to make a play. When that happens, you stop moving your feet, and then people close in on you. Then you either turn the puck over or they separate you from it.”
• Devan Dubnyk, whose wife is expecting their second child, is scheduled to start in goal Saturday. “If something changes, we’ll adjust,” Yeo said.
• Yeo said defenseman Matt Dumba’s play has hit a new level the past three games. “The picture has looked far more like what it should look like,” Yeo said.