After gaining ground on the road to recovery, the Wild has hit a setback.
Joel Eriksson Ek was going to play Friday vs. Anaheim at Xcel Energy Center after being sidelined the past three-plus weeks with an upper-body injury, but he's now out after testing positive for COVID-19.
"I'm sure it's real disappointing for him," coach Dean Evason said. "Clearly, it's disappointing for all of us. He's practiced real well all week and looked good. His progression's been great, and then this happens.
"But it's happened. He'll completely heal up now, and he'll be ready to go when he's cleared to get back."
Although Eriksson Ek isn't available, the Wild is still set to have three regulars return to action.
Brandon Duhaime and Jordan Greenway have been activated from the COVID list, and Kirill Kaprizov is expected to suit up after getting crunched into the boards Jan. 6 at Boston and suffering an upper-body injury that knocked him out of that game and the next one.
The Wild won both contests and then had almost a week-long break, a lull in which the team's manpower improved but not enough to get back to full strength.
"It was starting to feel a little bit more like our team," Greenway said. "But it's unfortunate obviously that [Eriksson Ek's] in the protocol right now. We have to make do with what we've got. We've been doing that obviously the last couple games and finding ways to win, which is huge for us. We've just gotta keep finding ways to do it."
Nick Bjugstad and Jonas Brodin are still dealing with upper-body injuries, and captain Jared Spurgeon is shelved with a lower-body ailment. So is goaltender Cam Talbot, but Talbot was on the ice for the optional practice the team held Thursday at Tria Rink in St. Paul, a nod to the progression he's making.
As for Alex Goligoski, he has been in COVID protocols since last Saturday and while there's a possibility Goligoski could be cleared in time for the game Friday, Evason said, Goligoski will most likely remain out.
Victor Rask will sub into the lineup for Eriksson Ek.
This rash of absences, from injury or COVID-19, began in mid-December, but the interruptions in the schedule caused by the virus has meant the Wild has practiced and rested more than it's played.
Before Eriksson Ek was ruled out with COVID-19, he was facing a return after missing just three games.
Even Greenway, who had a lower-body injury before he went on the COVID list, has sat out only three times over the past 24 days despite playing once in that span.
"I needed the rest," Greenway said. "I had a couple things lingering that I think are pretty much healed now."
Leading up to the All-Star break at the beginning of February, the Wild's calendar will remain spotty.
That means more layoffs to recuperate but also less opportunity to climb up the standings, a reality that seems to put a premium on the games the Wild does have before the schedule resumes at a busier pace.
"Looking forward to the next couple months, obviously it's going to be pretty jam-packed with games," Greenway said. "So, I think this time is actually a good time for us to maybe take a step back and come back as healthy as we can because. I think when we do get back and going, there's not going to be much time to take off."