Myers: Parise, and now Granlund, injuries taking their toll on Wild
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Perhaps the surest indication that it's been a rough few days for the Minnesota Wild didn't happen on the ice Wednesday night in their listless 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, which is just the second home loss in regulation for the team this season.
No, the sure sign that things are bad and may be getting worse in a hurry is that most of the excitement the team generated among the fans and on Twitter came roughly 12 hours earlier -- during the morning skate.
Star forward Zach Parise, who took a St. Louis Blues slap shot off his right foot on Monday night, missed most of that 3-0 road loss, and was originally predicted to be out two or three weeks with the ailment. On Wednesday morning he skated for a few minutes wearing track pants, just to test things out. Then he retreated to the Wild locker room, returning a few minutes later in full gear, and began what looked like a regular practice with his top-line mates.
Twitter exploded, as reporters inside the rink quickly surmised a miracle return from injury, and that somehow Parise's three-week recovery window had been shortened to roughly 36 hours.
Alas, it was not to be.
"I was just testing it out," Parise said on Wednesday night, watching a game from the pressbox for the first time since he joined the Wild in the summer of 2012.
What he saw from that perch high above the ice surface was a Phoenix team that plays well defensively, seemingly always wins in Minnesota (the Coyotes are now 6-0-2 in their last eight visits to St. Paul) and is lethal playing with a lead. In other words, it was a rough night.
"It's tough no matter who you're playing, let alone a real solid defensive structured team like Phoenix," said Wild defenseman Keith Ballard, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday after a nine-game stint on injured reserve due to broken ribs. Ballard, who signed with Minnesota over the summer, spent his first three NHL seasons with the Coyotes, and was a rare injury-related bright spot.
"You get yourself in a hole 2-0, it's tough in this league to battle back. We had some chances on the power play and the power play wasn't good. We had some other opportunities and we didn't capitalize."
Already missing Parise, their leading scorer, the news got worse quickly. Just minutes into the game, second line center Mikael Granlund headed for the locker room and did not return. He'd missed the previous two games with an upper body injury, and was unable to make it through much more than a shift on Wednesday. Suddenly, just putting four lines together became a daunting challenge for the Wild's coach.
"Certainly, things were a mess," Mike Yeo said of his makeshift lineup. "Our start wasn't good enough. But our guys kept battling. There were many opportunities where we could've tied it up, but we've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot with these starts."
For the first decade or so of Wild history, they were boring by design under Jacques Lemaire.
Now, playing down to the defensive level that Phoenix uses to much success, partially due to the fact that two of the most dynamic offensive players are out, marks the problem during a critical stretch where the Wild are playing four games in six days.
"I really think the injuries, coupled with us looking at the magnitude of these games, we're going out there and trying to be a little bit safe," Yeo said. "I really believe that when we're at our best, we're playing an aggressive game, but with and without the puck. We just seem to be starting these games a little bit hesitant."
The immediate aftermath of the loss, with Granlund and Parise out, will be a quick return from the minors for Jason Zucker. After three games up with the Wild, Zucker spent part of Wednesday re-joining the Iowa farm club, for whom he had a goal, on Wednesday night. He'll spend part of Thanksgiving Day returning to Minnesota, and Yeo said he'll be in the lineup on Friday afternoon when the Wild hosts Colorado.
The coach didn't say whether he expects Parise and Granlund to be watching from the pressbox on Black Friday, but that was the implication on a squad for which the holiday blues seem to be hitting in full force.