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Wild to sit Vanek, Zucker vs. Blues

Yeo: 'We need to change directions here'

by Louie Korac @lkorac10 / Correspondent

WILD (23-19-9) at BLUES (29-17-8) 


ST. LOUIS -- Trying to shake up his roster and jolt a spark, Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo sent a stern message to his players Saturday morning.

Mired in a four-game losing streak and winners of one of the past 10 games, Yeo will make veteran forwards Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker healthy scratches against the St. Louis Blues Saturday night.

Both Vanek and Zucker have played in all 51 games for the Wild thus far, and those two players take 25 goals and 24 assists from the lineup.

Removing Vanek takes the second-leading goal scorer (14) out. Vanek also is third in points with 29. Taking the speedy Zucker out removes the team's third-leading goal scorer (11), who has 20 points this season.

"Message-sending, whatever," said Yeo, who hadn't informed the players before alerting the media. "We're going down a path that we need to change directions here.

"... I think certainly there comes a time where [if] we continue to go down the path that we're going, we need to make some changes and we're at that point right now."

The players took the news in stride.

"If [Yeo] thinks taking me out, it's a better lineup, I've got to respect that, work hard and make sure I get back in and prove him wrong," Vanek said. "There's no time for me or this team to pout around."

The Wild are 1-8-1 in the past 10 games and finishing out a three-game trip. They led 2-0 at the New York Rangers on Thursday and showed signs of getting their game back before allowing four unanswered goals to fall to 0-3-1 in the past four games.

"It's getting back to our identity," Yeo said when asked what he's looking for. "Obviously I think when we're playing our game, we are a stingy team, we're a tough team to play against, we're a team that attacks, that's aggressive but is strong defensively. Through all that, I think that's when our speed comes out."

If Yeo were looking to get the players' attention, it was delivered loud and clear in the locker room when news spread.

"It says we have to start playing a lot better; they're really good players, but that's the spot that we're in right now," Wild left wing Zach Parise said. "Coaches need to make the decisions that they think are for the best for us right now. As a group, we need to start playing better."

Chris Porter and Tyler Graovac, recalled from Iowa of the American Hockey League Saturday, will step into the lineup in place of Vanek and Zucker.

"I'm very excited," said Graovac, who has played in one game with the Wild this season. "I'm looking forward to getting back. I've never felt better to be honest. My legs feel great, I'm confident in my game and I'm looking forward to tonight and bringing a spark."

The Wild placed defenseman Jonas Brodin on injured reserve Saturday. Brodin will miss 3-6 weeks after sustaining a broken foot against the Rangers.

The Blues, who have scored five goals in five games, will look to get to a strong game early.

"I don't think we can fall into the trap thinking they're just going to roll over for us," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of the Wild. "They seem to play a very patient and almost boring game against us, but it works. It's worked recently against us.

"We just want to make sure they don't come in here feeling like we're a team they've had success against lately and they're going to get right back in the swing of things by getting a win against us tonight."

Here are the projected lineups:


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Ryan Carter - Tyler Graovac - Justin Fontaine

Chris Porter - Jarret Stoll - Erik Haula

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Matt Dumba

Christian Folin - Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Jonas Brodin (foot)

Scratched: Thomas Vanek, Jason Zucker, Niklas Backstrom


Patrik Berglund - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko

Scottie Upshall - Alexander Steen - David Backes

Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Troy Brouwer

Magnus Paajarvi - Kyle Brodziak - Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson - Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott

Pheonix Copley

Injured: Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Jake Allen (lower body), Steve Ott (hamstring)

Scratched: Ryan Reaves, Robert Bortuzzo

Status report: Folin will step into the lineup in place of Brodin. ... Schwartz was on the ice Saturday morning during an optional skate, but is not ready to return and will miss his 48th straight game.

Who's hot: Koivu has 27 points in 39 games against St. Louis. ... Dumba has three points the past two games. ... Elliott is 7-2-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average in 11 games against the Wild. ... Steen has 19 points in 26 games against the Wild and Shattenkirk has 15 points in 21 games against Minnesota.

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