Count Jared Spurgeon among those who enjoyed watching the Wild go 5-0 during a home stand that ended Saturday.
The team captain has been cheering from the sidelines for the past two weeks, recovering from a lower-body injury while his teammates stretched their current win streak to six games.
Spurgeon is likely to be a spectator again Tuesday, when the Wild begins a four-game road trip in Edmonton. But after a lively practice Monday at Tria Rink, coach Dean Evason said the defenseman has "a real good chance'' of returning to the lineup Thursday at San Jose. The practice was the first for Spurgeon since he was injured Nov. 20 in the first period of a 5-4 loss at Florida.
After an hour of banging, bumping and hard skating, Spurgeon said he felt good. And as eager as he was to be back in a full-speed practice, he also was glad he didn't have to rush his return. The Wild has managed just fine without him, going 6-1 in his absence.
"As a team, everyone's contributing,'' Spurgeon said. "This home stand has been fun to watch. But being out there with the guys, sort of getting back into the game atmosphere rather than skating by myself, was nice.''
Several players have stepped up to fill Spurgeon's roles as a leader, defensive stalwart and key member of the power play and penalty kill. Jordie Benn — who had played only one game before Spurgeon was hurt — slid into the lineup and has performed well. Fellow defenseman Jon Merrill has been solid, too, in a higher-profile role alongside Alex Goligoski.
"It shows we have depth,'' Evason said. "We have a lot of people that can play the game, and play it for each other.''
With a 7-4-1 record away from Xcel Energy Center, the Wild owns the best road record in the Central Division. In the Western Conference, only Calgary (11-3-2) and San Jose (8-7) have more road victories.
Wild forward Marcus Foligno credits that success to confidence and consistency. He said the Wild—whose 89 goals are second-most in the NHL—believes it can score on the road, and it is playing the same style away from home as it does on its own ice.
"We're really trying to minimize turnovers and mistakes, things that make it frustrating for teams,'' Foligno said. "We're playing smart. And we've had a lot of comebacks on the road. We don't give up.''
The Foligno-Joel Eriksson Ek-Jordan Greenway line will get another big test Tuesday, after holding Toronto star Auston Matthews without an even-strength goal in Saturday's 4-3 shootout victory over the Maple Leafs. Edmonton's lineup includes the top two scorers in the NHL: Leon Draisaitl (43 points) and Connor McDavid (42).
Foligno said teamwork, physical play and attention to detail will be key to neutralizing the Oilers' stars.
"Speed is an issue with McDavid,'' Foligno said. "Our neutral zone is going to be really big against that team. We have to work as a five-man unit all over the ice when that guy's out there.''
Shaw called up
The Wild recalled forward Mason Shaw on Monday morning, just in time for a trip to his home province. A fourth-round draft pick in 2017, the native of Wainwright, Alberta, has yet to play an NHL game. But Evason said Shaw is "very deserving'' of the promotion from the team's AHL affiliate in Iowa.
"He's done all the right things,'' Evason said. "He's playing extremely well down there.''
Shaw, 23, is tied for second on the Iowa Wild in points (14) and goals (six). Evason praised the 5-10 forward for his physical play, versatility and shot-blocking ability, as well as his tenacity in overcoming three serious knee injuries.
Shaw's hometown is only two hours from Edmonton. It's uncertain whether he will play Tuesday, but his family plans to attend the game.
"I'm extremely excited to be here,'' Shaw said. "It's crazy how this thing works sometimes.''