ST. PAUL, Minn. — After getting shut out in two of its past three games, the Minnesota Wild want to ensure their playoff positioning doesn’t slip too much. They’re hopeful a healthy top defenseman Ryan Suter and a shuffling of the forward lines can help them get back on the right track Saturday against Columbus.
Getting back Suter, who leads the NHL by averaging 27:11 time on ice per game, is the most pressing matter for Minnesota, which has lost six of its past eight games. Suter, who was hurt in Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues, didn’t practice Friday, and coach Mike Yeo called his defenseman day-to-day. Yeo wouldn’t elaborate on Suter’s injury, only saying it’s a “body” injury when asked if Suter was dealing with a lower-body injury.
“The minutes that he plays anyway, with a guy like that, you pretty much go into these practice days and see how he’s feeling anyway,” Yeo said. “So if he’s not feeling 100 percent, then might as well just keep him off.”
Suter, who is second among NHL defenseman with 29 points and 25 assists, returned to the game in the second period but missed the entire third because of the injury.
“Why run the risk of hurting yourself worse or something like that?” Yeo said. “It wasn’t quite good enough yesterday. This guy’s a tough guy. He is a tough, tough guy. So, again, having part of that game and all of today to rest should help him.”
Even with hopes Suter returns for Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Yeo is trying to spark his team’s offense, which has been shut out in three of the past four games — the only times all season the Wild have been blanked. The team has also recalled speedy winger Jason Zucker from the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League, and Yeo altered the lines for Friday’s practice.
The coach returned rookie Charlie Coyle to a line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Jason Pominville, acquired at the trade deadline last week, was moved to a line with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak.
“This is in no way shape or form based on the idea that that line (Parise, Koivu and Pominville) can’t be really effective for us,” Yeo said. “We’ve seen that they can be. What it is really about is trying to find some balance to our lineup. And putting (Pominville) with Bouch and Brodzy, I think that’s a line that can definitely produce for us.”
Yeo is also going back to Parise, Koivu and Coyle that worked so well when Minnesota ran off seven straight wins two weeks ago.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, for sure,” Yeo said. “Going back to last night, there were a lot of good things in that game. There was definitely some things that we can do better, and we looked at the video and we worked on some things today. But if we keep doing a lot of those same things and get better in a few areas, then we’re going to be good.”
Center Matt Cullen, who has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury, has resumed skating on his own but has not joined the team for practices.
“The one thing with Cully is when this first happened, I probably would have termed it week-to-week,” Yeo said. “And I think we’re at the point where we can say that he’s now day-to-day as well.”
Minnesota is hoping Zucker can add some offense, too. Yeo would only say earlier in the day that the team had discussed a call-up and didn’t mention Zucker by name. But later Friday, the Wild recalled Zucker, who four goals and an assist in 14 games earlier this season for Minnesota.
Zucker, 21, was recently named to the AHL all-rookie team. He had 24 goals and 26 assists in 55 games for Houston this season. He was first in the AHL with eight game-winning goals and tied for fourth with 12 power-play goals.
The Wild, once leaders of the Northwest Division, are now seventh in the West with 46 points, two ahead of eighth-place Detroit and four ahead of ninth-place Phoenix. Columbus (41 points) plays at Minnesota on Saturday night.
“For us, what’s important is that we stay realistic and keep remembering where we are at,” Yeo said. “I really like where we’re at. I like where we’re positioned. We know that we have work to do, but we’ve got a great opportunity.”