At this time of the season, when the Wild has a day or two in between games, Jason Zucker typically favors rest over practice.
“In my opinion, the more rest, the better,” the winger said.
That said, Zucker believed Wednesday’s practice at Tria Rink “was something we needed.” As coach Bruce Boudreau promised after Monday’s 3-0 loss to San Jose, the Wild spent most of the session tending to a troublesome power play that has not scored in its past 18 chances. The team worked to solve the problems that have short-circuited its ability to convert.
The Wild enters Thursday’s game against Dallas one point out of a wild-card berth. To break a six-game rut without a power-play goal, Boudreau wants to see his team do a better job of gaining and maintaining control of the puck.
“When we get it set up and make plays, we’re getting a lot of chances,” Boudreau said. “What we’re not doing is getting second chances. Retrievals are vital in this game, and winning the faceoffs. The first faceoff is vital, and it’s something we’ve been lacking lately.”
Roster changes and a dearth of practice time left forward Zach Parise lamenting that “it feels like it’s five strangers on the ice” after Monday’s loss. The Wild went 0-for-3 on the power play to drop its conversion rate to 19.7 percent, which ranks 16th in the NHL.
Boudreau put Parise, Eric Staal, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon together on one unit Wednesday. The other included Zucker, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Brad Hunt and Pontus Aberg. Victor Rask also got some work with that group.
“It was good,” Zucker said. “We need to just move pucks quickly and be efficient. Get pucks on net and not try to be too fancy. And any time we have a chance to win a puck battle and get it back and keep it in the zone, we’ve got to do it.”
After sitting out the past two games, Kunin expects to play Thursday. He was sidelined by two punishing incidents in the span of a week; Calgary’s Garnet Hathaway bashed his head into the top of the boards March 2, and Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette staggered him with a hard open-ice check five days later.
“I feel really good,” said Kunin, who centered a line with Donato and Zucker in practice. “It was good to be smart and take a couple of days off. But I’m hungry to get back and help the team.”
Eriksson Ek out
Forward Joel Eriksson Ek did not practice Wednesday because of a lower-body injury. He was hurt in the first period of Monday’s loss when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns knocked him down along the boards and cross-checked him repeatedly. Though Eriksson Ek stayed in the game, he did not play the final six minutes.
Boudreau said he hopes Eriksson Ek will not be sidelined for more than a week.
While Eriksson Ek was absent, another injured player made an unexpected appearance. Defenseman Matt Dumba skated before Wednesday’s practice, taking the ice for the first time since surgery in December to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
Boudreau emphasized that the timeline for Dumba’s return has not changed; he was initially expected to miss at least three months, but Dumba said in January that he wasn’t sure whether he would play again this season.
“I didn’t even know he skated until five minutes ago,” Boudreau said. “He was just bored.”