EDINA, Minn. — Injuries have often robbed Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo of decisions to make regarding his lineup. A return to health for players could create some difficult choices down the stretch for Yeo.
Defenseman Marco Scandella is one piece to the puzzle. Yeo said Scandella will return to the lineup for Saturday’s afternoon home game against the St. Louis Blues.
"We’ve done a pretty good job battling through some games, and some tough games, without him," Yeo said. "But he’s a real important player for our team and makes a big difference when he’s in the lineup for us. It will be interesting. He’s obviously coming back and jumping right into it, so it will be a tough test for him tomorrow. Give him a little bit of time and it won’t take long to get his game right back to where it was."
Scandella will replace rookie Christian Folin, who scored his second goal of the season in Thursday night’s loss to Washington.
"It’s a tough thing," Yeo said of the lineup decisions. "We’ve got a lot of guys here. Whether it’s (forward Jordan Schroeder) or whether it’s a guy like Fols, obviously you want to be in the lineup. You feel you can help. But it’s what you do to make sure you stay ready; and it’s also pretty easy to look around and realize that it’s not like you’re being beat out by guys that aren’t quality NHL players, too. I think those guys are doing a good job. They’re staying upbeat, they’re staying ready and when they’ve jumped in, they’ve been very effective."
Trade acquisitions have helped Minnesota’s depth, along with the return of defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
Scandella has missed nine games with an upper-body injury. Forward Ryan Carter is nearing a return, as well, and the Wild could have Matt Cooke and Jason Zucker back as the regular season ends.
Yeo faces the tough decisions based on nightly matchups, roles and also not disrupting the chemistry that has led Minnesota to an NHL-best 21-6-2 record since Jan. 15.
"You have to try to make those decisions based on, obviously, looking at the short term, that particular game and what the one player might bring and the impact that might have," Yeo said. "But also what impact it would have in the bigger picture and sort of a longer-term thing."
Scandella, 25, is in the midst of a breakout season with nine goals and 20 points in 53 games. He has four game-winning goals this season, tied for third among all NHL defensemen this season. Only five defensemen in team history have reached 10 goals in a season.
With Central Division-leading St. Louis up next and the Wild clawing for every point in the standings, Scandella can’t ease back in, either.
Scandella said he’s ready to play a physical game and can be counted on for more than 20 minutes Saturday, if needed.
"I’m ready," Scandella said. "Bumped around a little bit last couple practices, so I feel good."
As for being ready to jump into a playoff race, Scandella said, "It’s just mental. Get in there first shift, try to keep it simple, get a good first shift under your belt and just keep going."
Yeo said Carter isn’t ready to return from his upper-body injury, but Carter has practiced with the team all week and is getting closer after missing 19 games.
"He needs a little bit more practice time," Yeo said "He’s been out for quite a while here and we’ve got to make sure that we’re giving him a good chance to make sure that he’s fully ready."
Minnesota has lost 241 man games this season to injury. Keith Ballard has missed 45 games with a concussion. Cooke has missed the past 22 games with a sports hernia. Zucker, who hopes to return for the playoffs, has missed 19 games.
Defenseman Nate Prosser has missed the past two games, which opened up a spot for Folin.
"It’s tough, but you’ve got to stay positive and kind of put the work in every day and make sure you’re sharp and ready to go when they call you," Folin said.
Yeo said Folin has played well and indicated the rookie will get another chance and has to be ready.
"Done a good job with the coaching staff doing extra skating and shooting and stuff like that," Folin said of how he prepares. "I think that has helped me a lot. I think it’s important to kind of clear your head a little bit, too, because if you start thinking too much about not playing, you get kind of caught up in it.
"So, kind of shut the brain down a little bit, focus on something else and kind of just enjoy the time here."