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Wild juggle lines in search of offense, balance

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's only a three-game sample size, but it's enough for Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo to know his team needs more offense.

Through three games, the Wild have scored just seven goals -- including only two playing 5-on-5. With the top-line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville generating a vast majority of the team's quality chances, Yeo has decided to move some parts around in the hopes of balancing his lineup and getting his second line going offensively as his team hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

The most prominent change comes on that top line, where right wing Pominville has been moved to the second line and replaced with Nino Niederreiter.

For the 21-year old Niederreiter, who was traded to the Wild over the summer from the New York Islanders in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a draft pick, it's an opportunity earned because of his strong play through the team's first three games.

"It's a great opportunity to play with players like they are. I think I can definitely learn a lot in that situation," Niederreiter said. "It's really exciting, but I know I need to get better each day.

Yeo hopes putting a big body like the 6-foot-2 Niederreiter on the top line could perhaps replicate the success Parise and Koivu had playing last season with Charlie Coyle, another big bodied youngster who occupied the right wing.

Minnesota's coach also wants to see if he can get his team's second line going. Through three games, five of the team's seven goals have come on the power play. Three of those man-advantage goals have come from the Wild's first group, which consists of Pominville, Parise and Koivu.

That line has also been the lone group able to get sustained offensive pressure 5-on-5.

With Mikael Granlund centering the second line in place of an injured Coyle, Yeo hopes the infusion of Pominville can also help kick-start veteran left wing Dany Heatley, who is pointless through three games.

"When the chances are not getting generated, when there is very little sustained pressure, then that's a reason for concern," Yeo said. "That's what we're hoping for [Thursday], balancing things a little more and providing a spark to some of those other groups."

Minnesota called up Jason Zucker after Coyle was injured last Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks, but sent him back to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League on Wednesday following Minnesota's 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators.

In his place, the Wild called up Stephane Veilleux. The energetic veteran is expected to give center Zenon Konopka a pair of speedy wingers in Veilleux and Torrey Mitchell.

Justin Fontaine, who has played the right side of the fourth line in each of Minnesota's three previous games, has moved to the team's third grouping with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke.

Yeo also tweaked Minnesota's back end, moving Keith Ballard up with Jared Spurgeon on the team's second pairing. Rookie Matt Dumba is expected to play in his second National Hockey League game with Clayton Stoner on the third pair. Marco Scandella, who has skated with Spurgeon in each game so far, will be scratched.

The Wild also made a roster move in goal, calling up goaltender Darcy Kuemper from Iowa. He will back up Josh Harding, as Niklas Backstrom is injured after straining his knee in Nashville.

"If he's not 100 percent, it's silly [to have him available]," Yeo said. "Especially if the backup is going in, chances are he's going in cold. You have got to make sure you're protecting him and doing the right thing for the team."

Yeo did say he thought Backstrom would travel with the team when it embarks on a four-game Eastern Conference road trip starting Monday in Buffalo against the Sabres.

Winnipeg is playing the first of three games in four nights and held an optional morning skate Thursday. Jets coach Claude Noel said he was pleased with the two days of practice the team has put in since its 3-2 loss Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks at MTS Centre.

Noel said any potential lineup changes would be game-time decisions, although wing Chris Thorburn will likely miss Thursday's contest with an undisclosed injury. He didn't practice with the team Tuesday or Wednesday.

Here are the projected lineups for Thursday night:


Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler

Evander Kane - Mark Scheifele - Devin Setoguchi

Eric Tangradi - Olli Jokinen - Michael Frolik

James Wright - Jim Slater - Matt Halischuk

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien

Zach Bogosian - Jacob Trouba

Mark Stuart - Grant Clitsome

Ondrej Pavelec

Al Montoya

Scratches: Paul Postma, Anthony Peluso

Injured: Chris Thorburn (undisclosed)


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter

Dany Heatley - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Stephane Veilleux - Zenon Konopka - Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Keith Ballard - Jared Spurgeon

Mathew Dumba - Clayton Stoner

Josh Harding

Darcy Kuemper

Scratches: Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser

Injured: Mike Rupp (knee), Niklas Backstrom (knee), Charlie Coyle (knee)

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