Like they have for the last month, practices and rest days continue to outnumber games on the Wild's calendar. But that won't be the case for much longer.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Wild will cram the second half of its season into 81 days — a 41-game sprint to the finish line that the NHL announced on Wednesday.
"I'd rather be on the ice preparing to play a game than be on the ice preparing to practice," coach Dean Evason said Wednesday during another layoff, with the Wild not back in action until Friday at Chicago after a 4-3 shootout loss in Colorado on Monday. "The guys will embrace it. Whatever shakes out with the schedule, they tell us to play, and we'll get ready when the puck is dropped."
Seven Wild games were postponed due to COVID-19, and as expected, those makeup contests will take place during what was supposed to be the Olympic break. The NHL pulled out of the Winter Games last month, and will use that time to fill out its schedule.
First up after the All-Star Game is a trip to Winnipeg for a Feb. 8 matchup before the Wild hosts Carolina on Feb. 12 and Detroit on Feb. 14. The team has another game at Winnipeg Feb. 16 and then a home date with Florida two days later.
To finish out the month, the Wild will go on a road trip through Canada with stops in Edmonton (Feb. 20) and Ottawa (Feb. 22) added ahead of previously scheduled games in Toronto (Feb. 24) and Calgary (Feb. 26). The itineraries for March and April remain the same, with the regular season still wrapping up on April 29.
"Our schedule anyway at the end of the year was crazy with every second day basically," Evason said. "Hockey players want to play hockey. They don't want to practice hockey. So, we're all excited to get into a routine of playing games."
For now, though, the Wild still has plenty of downtime the rest of January.
After this home-and-home with the Blackhawks over the weekend, the Wild faces Montreal on Monday at Xcel Energy Center and then doesn't play again until Friday in New York against the Rangers.
By then, the team's injury report could be shorter than it is now.
Captain Jared Spurgeon is likely to suit up this weekend after being out with a lower-body injury he reaggravated Dec. 16. The team is thinking the defenseman draws in on Saturday.
Goalie Cam Talbot, who's been dealing with a lower-body injury suffered at the Winter Classic, is "real close," Evason said. If Talbot isn't available for the weekend series, Evason mentioned the Wild being comfortable tabbing Kaapo Kahkonen for both games but would decide at the time.
As for Jonas Brodin and Nick Bjugstad, who are both out with upper-body injuries, Brodin has begun skating while Bjugstad is working out in the gym.
The Wild should still have a different look come Friday since Joel Eriksson Ek has been removed from the COVID list.
Eriksson Ek practiced with the team on Wednesday at Tria Rink and said he's "definitely ready to go" — the second time in the last week he's been on the brink of a return. The center was going to play last Friday vs. Anaheim after being sidelined with an upper-body injury but then tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.
"It was hard," Eriksson Ek said. "But gave me some extra days to heal."
A month ago in Dallas, Eriksson Ek was hurt when he got tied up with the Stars' Jani Hakanpaa and crashed into the boards.
"I got stuck weird," Eriksson Ek said. "It is what it is."
Because of the ensuing rash of postponements brought on by the virus, Eriksson Ek ended up missing only three games due to injury before sitting out the last two with COVID-19.
But the opportunity to get back to playing regularly is there, beginning in February.
"We're definitely ready for it," Eriksson Ek said.