ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Unfortunate circumstances have driven the Minnesota Wild to try a number of different second-line combinations during the early part of the season.
Charlie Coyle started the year as the second-line center with Mikael Granlund playing a wing. An injury to Coyle in the team's second game pushed Granlund to the middle, his natural position, but finding him consistent wings has been a problem. Dany Heatley has played a lot of left wing with Granlund, but is off to the slowest start of his career. In need of a spark, third-line left wing Matt Cooke spent some time with the second group. Nino Niederreiter has bounced between all of the Wild's top-three lines.
Finally, it seems Wild coach Mike Yeo has found a combo with some chemistry by moving veteran right wing Jason Pominville to the second line.
"Both guys have very, very high hockey smarts," Yeo said. "Whether it's the guy without the puck going to spots on the ice or the guy with the puck and the areas he's moving to and what he's looking for … they're reading off each other before either of them get the puck."
Over the last two games, Pominville has scored three goals, all assisted by Granlund, while Granlund has jumped into a tie for the team lead with seven assists. That's already more in 12 games than he had in 27 games last season.
"We're starting to get rewarded with some goals," Pominville said. "You try to play your game and not change anything. But when you give him the puck or he has the puck, you try and make sure you're ready because he's good at being patient and waiting guys out and then moving it over. You've gotta be ready for a pass at all times."
Minnesota will try to sweep a back-to-back set with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Monday at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated Chicago 5-3 Saturday at United Center, dealing the Blackhawks their first regulation loss at home this season. Chicago will try and do the same Monday to the Wild, who are 4-0-2 at home.
In an effort to get left wing Patrick Sharp going, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will start him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, the same place Sharp played during the third period Saturday.
Sharp has scored just once in 11 games this season. He had a number of quality chances Saturday, including an early breakaway, that he couldn't capitalize on. He finished the game against Minnesota with seven shots.
Chicago will also be without second-line center Michal Handzus, who will miss the game Monday against the Wild as well as Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators with an upper-body injury.
That opens a spot for Brandon Pirri to center the second line. Pirri led the American Hockey League in scoring last season, but Quenneville said he was waiting for the right opportunity to give him an extended tryout with the second line.
Quenneville said Monday now is that time.
"We're still looking for that guy," Quenneville said. "Hopefully Brandon can be that guy."
Pirri said he looks at the game as a chance to show coaches what he can do.
"It's an opportunity, I don't know if there's pressure. It's a team game, everyone's gotta do their part," Pirri said. "Every game is an audition. The depth in this organization, everybody wants to be here. If you're not playing consistent or showing up every game, you're not going to be playing."
Here is how the lineups could look for the Blackhawks and Wild on Monday:
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin
Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Brad Mills
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival
Scratches: Ben Smith, Sheldon Brookbank
Injured: Michael Kostka (foot), Michal Handzus (upper body)
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Justin Fontaine
Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley
Stephane Veilleux - Zenon Konopka - Torrey Mitchell
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Nate Prosser - Marco Scandella
Mathew Dumba - Clayton Stoner
Injured: Mike Rupp (knee), Charlie Coyle (knee), Jonas Brodin (broken cheekbone)