Minnesota Wild forward Mats Zuccarello will make his return to the lineup Thursday night at home against the New Jersey Devils, head coach Dean Evason confirmed in a post-morning skate press conference this morning. Zuccarello has missed two games with a hand injury after leaving during the first period of the Wild’s 7-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets back on November 26th, having suffered a slash at the hands of the Jets’ Nathan Beaulieu.
Zuccarello was in the midst of a strong stretch of games, having scored three goals and four assists over his last five contests, including a pair of goals against Winnipeg before he left due to his injury.
Zuccarello took the high road when asked about the nature of his injury.
“Obviously every time you get hurt it’s bad and it sucks, but I’m sure it was a fluky incident and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Zuccarello told reporters after morning skate. “You just have to take the time it takes to heal and go from there.”
Lizard has been impressed by his linemates Kirill Kaprizov and Ryan Hartman, and their ability to keep things rolling with temporary winger Rem Pitlick. Hartman is riding a four-game points streak dating back to the last time the Wild played the Devils back on November 24th, while Kaprizov continues to be one of the hottest players in the league with four goals and 10 assists in his last 7 contests. Zuccarello is wary of interrupting their flow, but knows that when things are really clicking, there’s not much you can do to stop the momentum.
“We had some good games before (the injury), then (Kaprizov and Hartman) continued playing well. When the whole team plays well, everyone plays well. You go in rolls where you feel good. everything goes in, and every pass you make seems like a good pass, so I’ll just try to step in and not ruin their good steam. Just trying to help out.”
Head coach Dean Evason spoke highly of Zuccarello, heaping praise on everything he brings to the Wild.
“He not only does things offensively, but has done a lot of really nice leadership things this year as well,” Evason said of Zuccarello. “Certainly his work ethic... when he got hurt, for him to backcheck on the play just says and shows our group his committment, grit, skill and attitude.”
Zuccarello was dodgy when asked if he’d be full strength, saying, “At the end of the day you just have to go in, see how you feel, and fight through it.” Zuccarello added, “I don’t think I would play, or they would let me play, if it wasn’t good.”
As for the Wild’s other missing players, Evason didn’t have much to update on defenseman Jared Spurgeon (lower body) or forward Freddy Gaudreau (COVID).
Evason told reporters that Spurgeon’s absence from Thursday’s morning skate was precautionary for “maintenance” and that the captain hadn’t suffered any setbacks, but that he wouldn’t play tonight against the Devils. Evason had even less to say about Gaudreau, and didn’t have any additional information on the nature of Gaudreau’s placement in the COVID protocol, whether subsequent tests have come back negative, or his availability for the upcoming road trip that starts in Edmonton on Tuesday.
“As it sits right now, I don’t know anything,” Evason said of Gaudreau’s availability.