Wild back at practice, have turned the corner after postponements

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The Minnesota Wild returned to practice Friday after a nine-day shutdown because of NHL COVID-19 protocols and plan to be ready to resume their season at the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-W, FS-WI, FS-N+, NHL.TV). 

“I’m expecting to play Tuesday in L.A,” general manager Bill Guerin said. “As for the reshuffling (of postponed games), we’ll take what they give us and we know it’s extremely difficult. I just think right now it’s one of those things that we just really have to take it in stride. It probably won’t be perfect, but it won’t be that bad either. The good thing is that we’ve turned the corner and things are looking good for us moving forward and the players are getting healthy. That’s the important thing right now.”

Minnesota (6-5-0) had six games postponed after players tested positive or went into the protocol since its last game, a 2-1 loss at the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 2. Its facilities were closed the next day.

Sixteen players were on the ice Friday: forwards Kevin Fiala, Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman, Luke Johnson, Kirill Kaprizov, Gerald Mayhew, Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello; defensemen Calen Addison, Matt Bartkowski, Matt Dumba, Dakota Mermis and Ryan Suter; and goalies Andrew Hammond and Kaapo Kahkonen.

On the NHL list of players unavailable due to protocol Thursday were forwards Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Johansson, Victor Rask and Nico Sturm; defensemen Jonas Brodin, Ian Cole, Brad Hunt, Carson Soucy and Jared Spurgeon; and goalie Cam Talbot.

“Hopefully we’ll be getting guys back incrementally,” Guerin said. “It’s kind of as they were diagnosed, day by day, there were one or two or three every day. That’s kind of how they’re going to come back. That’s if they’re symptom free.”

The Wild could get a boost Tuesday from Dumba and Zuccarello, who each is close to returning from injury.

Dumba, who has scored four points (one goal, three assists) in nine games this season, sustained an ankle injury in a game against the Avalanche on Jan. 30, but it was not as serious as first feared.

He said he expects to be ready to play Tuesday.

“It felt great,” Dumba said after practice. “It was honestly kind of good to have a little time off the ankle to let everything heal up. So I feel like I’m ready now.”

Zuccarello who had surgery on his right arm in Norway in November, has not played this season but had skated on his own for three days before the Wild were shut down. He said he wasn’t sure he’d be ready for Tuesday but that he’s close.

“We want to have a big year, and you want to get out there and be a part of the group and be a part of that as soon as you can,” said Zuccarello, who scored 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 65 games last season. “I think it’s just a shortened season, so we need everyone to get in as quick as we can. It’s going to take some time to get into it, but I’m excited.”

Guerin said the Wild will be relying on players on their taxi squad and from Iowa, their American Hockey League affiliate.

“I think we’re going to have quite a few depth guys, but we’re very comfortable with it,” he said. “These are guys that we’ve had either on our taxi squad or guys that were on the verge of call-ups. So all guys have created some good depth for us in the organization, and we’re very comfortable doing what we have to do.”

Coach Dean Evason said he is confident Minnesota will pick up where it left off when its season was paused.

“We’re very optimistic, absolutely,” Evason said. “We’ve talked about that a lot. Our guys have been real good about staying positive, about when that puck’s dropped and before, getting prepared physically and mentally to play the game. Again, a positive is that we’ve got a few days of practice, even though we don’t have everybody out there, it’s not like we’re practicing today and playing tomorrow.

“We really, really like the way our group competes. We’ve competed our butts off. We haven’t had some results on some nights … but we do like that our group has not deflated in different situations. Our group has stayed positive. They’ve stuck together.”

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