After what seemed like much longer than a 2 week hiatus, the Minnesota Wild is back in action this evening against the Edmonton Oilers. The Wild were as great of beneficiaries of the break as any team in the NHL as it gave them time to heal. It gave the team an opportunity to heal all of the ailing injuries in time for a stretch run. The key now is to put the Olympics behind for the players who participated and prepare to play with energy every night. The task could prove difficult after putting everything on the line for their country.
Mikko Koivu’s much anticipated return to action will have to wait until tomorrow night’s game against Vancouver. Mike Yeo ruled him out earlier today and alluded to a potential return for Friday even though Koivu has been practicing with the team for over a week. The Minnesota Wild played well in his absence before the Olympics with Mikael Granlund centering the top line. Granlund will again assume that role in between Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, a line that was impressive prior to the games in Sochi.
Marco Scandella is another player who suffered an injury at the right time, if there is ever a right time. His sprained knee would have kept him out of competition for much more than a few games had it occurred any other time in the season. Jason Zucker was afforded the opportunity to undergo a minor procedure on his knee and should miss just a few games while he is still recovering. With the Wild near a full lineup, Zucker may again be the odd player out and be headed back down to Des Moines on the “Zucker Highway.”
Darcy Kuemper will get the start this evening and attempt to pick up where he left off prior to the Olympics. He has been nothing short of sensational since taking over as the full-time starter for the Minnesota Wild. With Niklas Backstrom unable to get healthy and still struggling with abdominal issues, Kuemper is likely the guy going forward this season. Frankly, Kuemper has earned the right to be the consistent starter for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. Fans still hoping that Josh Harding will make a return this season may be left hanging. With no new updates in nearly 2 months while he battles multiple sclerosis, Harding has likely been shut down for the season, even if the coaching staff is unwilling to acknowledge it.
The question will finally be answered this evening. Will the Olympic players for the Minnesota Wild come back at a higher level of play and the rest of the roster be rested and rejuvenated? Or has the 2-weeks of emotional hockey worn out the players who participated and left the other players rusty? It helps that the Minnesota Wild return to action against a team in flux like Edmonton, but they will need to hit the ice skating in order to keep up with the rest of the Western Conference.