Wild winger Mats Zuccarello rejoins red-hot linemates
He got slashed on the left hand last week during a game against the rival Winnipeg Jets.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Wild winger Mats Zuccarello left last Friday’s game against Winnipeg after getting slashed on the left hand. He did not play Sunday against Tampa Bay or Tuesday against Arizona.
The good news for the Wild? The 34-year-old was set to return to the lineup for Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils at Xcel Energy Center. He was expected to slide into his normal spot alongside Ryan Hartman and opposite Kirill Kaprizov, a duo that has been on fire during his absence.
“Just try to step in and don’t ruin their good steam,” Zuccarello said with a laugh. “Just trying to help out.”
All jokes aside, Zuccarello is excited to be back after missing the past couple of games. He has missed the camaraderie in the locker room and on the ice.
“You never want to be out,” he said. “That’s part of the game. You stay out for a little bit and try to get ready to go again. And here we are.”
As for the injury itself, it was a frustrating play for Zuccarello because it didn’t need to happen. He was standing alone near the blue line on the power play when Jets defenseman Nathan Beaulieu got away with an obvious and unnecessary slash.
Despite bleeding profusely, Zuccarello finished the rest of his shift before heading to the locker room.
“It was a fluky incident,” he said. “Nothing you can do about it. Just have to take the time it takes to heal and go from there.”
Asked if he was 100%, Zuccarello sidestepped the question, responding, “I don’t think I would play or they would let me play if it wasn’t good.”
After a stellar performance Tuesday against the Coyotes, backup goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen got the start for Thursday’s game, as well. It is the first time this season Kahkonen has started consecutive games.
“There’s a lot of things that went into it,” coach Dean Evason said. “Ultimately, he played well, and that’s what we try to do for the most part. If people play well, then they get another opportunity, so he gets another game here tonight.”
This is a chance for Kahkonen to get into a rhythm. He has played sparingly this season with starting goaltender Cam Talbot playing so well. Still, the coaching staff expects Kahkonen to be sharp whenever he gets the nod.
“We don’t treat anybody different,” Evason said. “He does his work. If he doesn’t play, he does extra work, and when the puck is dropped, he’s got to be ready to play the game. There’s no excuses. He doesn’t have any. We expect him to continue to play well.”
With Zuccarello returning to the lineup, the Wild still were without captain Jared Spurgeon (lower-body injury) and winger Freddy Gaudreau (COVID protocol) for Thursday’s game. It’s unclear whether either will be available for Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.