Wild face stretch of 40 games in 77 days. Their attitude: ‘You’ve got to embrace it’
Stretch starts with Feb. 12 makeup game against Carolina Hurricanes.
ST. PAUL — If it feels as if the Minnesota Wild haven’t played many games over the past month, it’s because their schedule has been completely turned upside down due to various COVID outbreaks throughout the NHL.
In the past month, the Wild have had to postpone games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets (twice), Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers. All because of COVID outbreaks in opposing locker rooms.
While it has been a blessing in disguise to a degree, allowing the Wild more time for players to recover from injuries, it has created a harrowing stretch to close out the regular season.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Wild learned their updated schedule. Let’s just say it isn’t the most user friendly.
In fact, starting with the Feb. 12 makeup game against the Hurricanes, the Wild close the regular season with 40 games in 77 days.
Asked about the updated schedule, center Nico Sturm joked that his body started to hurt as soon as he saw it.
“Nah, I’m just kidding,” Sturm added with a laugh. “You know what? It’s going to be like last year. It’s either game day or it’s not game day. We aren’t going to practice a lot. That’s what we did last season and we were fine.”
That’s a good comparison. Everyone remembers the condensed 56-game schedule last season when it felt like the Wild were playing games every other night. For the record, the Wild finished with a 35-16-5 record last season.
Though some might expect the Wild to be frustrated by their new, revamped schedule, coach Dean Evason noted that it’s actually the opposite with his group. After such a sporadic schedule over the past month, the Wild simply want to play games again.
“I’d rather be on the ice preparing to play a game than be on the ice preparing to practice,” Evason said. “We are all excited to get into a routine of playing games. We were playing so many games last season. It was fun to play, right?”
That’s how the Wild are looking at it right now. They are excited for the challenge.
“You’ve got to embrace it and get excited about it,” defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “It feels like we haven’t played at all for the past month. We’ve been itching to get going.”
Maybe the Wild will feel differently come the end of this 82-game regular season. There’s a chance they could be pretty run down heading into the playoffs.
Will the Wild consider resting players?
“We’re game by game,” Evason said. “We finish that game and then we’ll make a decision based on that. There’s going to be a heck of a lot of games coming up. We’re going to have to be very mindful of our rest and our workload in practice. Not only for individuals, for the entire group.”
The good thing for the Wild is they have a pair of reliable goaltenders in starter Cam Talbot and backup Kaapo Kahkonen. Both players have risen to the occasion at different points this season.
“We talked right from the start that we were very comfortable with either of those guys,” Evason said. “Even though Cam got the majority of the workload (early on) didn’t mean that we didn’t feel comfortable with Kaapo getting in there and going.”
That’s something Kahkonen has proven over the past couple of weeks filling in for the injured Talbot.
“There shouldn’t be a surprise there,” Evason said. “He’s proven it. We’re happy with both guys. We’re going to need them both.”
And the rest of the team for that matter. But it sounds like the Wild are ready for it.
“We get to do what we love to do,” Sturm said. “It is what it is. It’s not ideal, but other teams have to deal with it too.”