ST. PAUL, Minn. - Playing without offensive leaders Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu hasn't been the on-ice disaster that many pessimistic Minnesota Wild fans may have predicted. The Wild have won seven of their past 10 games, and have clawed their way back into the playoff picture following their disastrous 0-6-0 run to end 2013.
Tonight another step toward normalcy will be taken, as Parise is returning to the lineup, feeling he's fully recovered from the foot injury he suffered in November.
"I felt good again this morning, so I think we're going to give it a shot tonight. It felt good enough to play," said Parise after the team's morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. "It's tough when you're watching the game from the pressbox for a long time, so I'm looking forward to playing again."
In a Nov. 25 game in St. Louis, Parise took a Blues shot off the left foot, suffering a fracture. Originally expected to miss three weeks, Parise initially spent just one game out of the lineup. But in the dozen games he played with the broken foot, he was held to four goals and an assist -below his historical levels of offensive production - and realized that time off was needed to let the foot heal completely.
Parise played in a Dec. 22 game versus the Rangers in Manhattan and has missed 13 consecutive games since then. During that time, Parise became a parent as his wife Alisha delivered healthy twins - a boy and girl named Jaxson and Emilia, respectively - in early January. He began skating and practicing last week and will make a full return to the lineup versus the Blackhawks on Thursday night in St. Paul.
Members of the media got the word directly from Parise after practice, costing Wild coach Mike Yeo to surprise reporters with the good news.
"Spoiler alert," Yeo joked. "We had a good feeling he would be (in the lineup) as long as he felt good this morning, so obviously we're excited to have him back."
At least initially, Parise will play left wing on the top line, with Charlie Coyle at center and Nino Niederreiter at right wing. Although Yeo said they will closely monitor how Parise looks and be willing to juggle lines as needed.
"You add a player to your top line and obviously there's going to be a trickle-down effect, and it's going to affect more than just that one line," Yeo said. "One of our challenges is to establish some chemistry quickly. I hope that line finishes the game that way, but we kind of have a plan B and a plan C in our pocket in case we feel that's not working out the way we want. We'll be open here."
The Wild are currently 27-20-5 and sit in eighth place in the Western Conference, four points ahead of ninth-place Phoenix, although the Coyotes have two games in hand.