After a 14-day layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the visiting Minnesota Wild could finally be back close to full strength Saturday night when they take the ice for the second game of their back-to-back with the Anaheim Ducks.
Goalie Cam Talbot, defensemen Jonas Brodin, Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt, and center Victor Rask all returned to practice on Friday afternoon in Anaheim after being removed from the protocol list on Thursday.
The rusty and short-handed Wild opened their West Coast road swing Tuesday with an ugly 4-0 loss at Los Angeles, but Thursday night bounced back to win their opener with the Ducks, 3-1.
Minnesota had six games postponed during its pause and with as many as 13 players in the NHL COVID-19 protocol. And despite the win over the Ducks, the Wild know they still have a ways to go to get back on track.
“I think it kind of calms the room a little bit,” said forward Marcus Foligno, whose third period goal was the clincher on Thursday. “In LA, we had a lot of new guys, a lot of guys up from the taxi squad who worked their butts off and it’s good for them to get that opportunity to finally play a game.
“But when you have your regular lineup in — and we’re still missing guys — there’s just a sense of calm and I think it settles the room down a little bit.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon returned after missing the loss to the Kings with an upper-body injury. Also, forwards Nick Bonino (who assisted on Foligno’s goal) and Nico Sturm played for the first time since Feb. 2 after coming off the protocol list.
“We’ve got to pick up some wins and climb the standings a little bit, so this one can jump-start us,” Foligno said. “It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t our best, obviously, but we know we’re going to get better and better. We all know we can play a lot better than we showed tonight, but we still got the win so that’s what’s important.”
Spurgeon’s return was a big one, especially on the penalty kill unit where he played a key role helping kill 66 seconds of a 5-on-3 near the end of the first period with the Wild protecting a 2-0 lead.
“Literally it was Jared Spurgeon that killed it,” said Minnesota coach Dean Evason. “His stick was absolutely phenomenal. The effort and leadership that he brought tonight certainly in that 5-on-3 was a very bright spot for us.”
Anaheim failed to record a single shot during the 5-on-3 and had just one shot in the ensuing 5-on-4 power play. That fact didn’t go unnoticed by a frustrated Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins after his team lost for the third time in four games.
“Too slow and no execution,” Eakins told the Orange County Register. “It’s amazing. We spent the morning and then before the game talking about 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 and then when we went out there we froze. We were slow moving the puck and our execution wasn’t even close to what it should be at this level.”
The Ducks finished 0-for-3 on the power play and are just 3-for-38 (7.9 percent) overall on the power play this season.
Anaheim also lost star defenseman Hampus Lindholm, a key figure on both power-play and penalty-killing units, during the contest to an unspecified lower-body injury.
“That’s not a good loss no matter how you look at it,” Eakins said.
–Field Level Media