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Wild, Panthers experiment with forward lines

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla -- The Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild will go into their matchup Saturday with almost entirely new line combinations.

For Florida, the only line staying intact is the top trio of Tomas Fleischmann, rookie Aleksander Barkov and Brad Boyes.

For Minnesota, the only line unchanged is the fourth unit of Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka and Stephane Veilleux.

"We need to try to find some offense here," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after his team's morning skate. "We've got to try to get more balance through our lineup."

Minnesota managed only four goals in the first three games of a four-game road trip that ends at BB&T Center Saturday. The Wild have gone 1-2-0 on the trip, beating the Buffalo Sabres before losing against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Florida, meanwhile, will play the second game of a season-long six-game homestead. Coming off a 3-2 loss against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Panthers have lost three in a row and have started the season 2-6-0.

"I like stability within our lineup," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "I like being able to have guys building chemistry. We're still looking towards that. We haven't stabilized everything and we're trying to make sure that there is some balance in our lineup.

"We've had some different looks this year. If you examined it closely you would see there's a lot of players that have played in pairs, meaning two guys have been together for the most part. There's a little tweaking going on here and there but that's certainly not throwing chemistry out the window."

Goalie Niklas Backstrom, who started Minnesota's first three games before sustaining a knee injury, is healthy again, which led to Darcy Kuemper being reassigned to Iowa of the American Hockey League on Friday.

While Backstrom is healthy, Yeo will go against Florida with Josh Harding, who leads the NHL with a 1.15 goals-against average. After Kuemper started against Toronto on Tuesday, Harding stopped 27 of 29 shots in a 3-1 loss against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

"[Harding] was great last game," Yeo said. "He gave us a chance. Certainly you can't expect him to do anything on either of the two goals that went in the net. If he continues to play like that, we have no choice but to put him in the net."

While Backstrom is healthy enough to serve as the backup, defenseman Keith Ballard isn't quite ready to return yet. He'll miss his third consecutive game after being hit in the chin by a puck against Buffalo on Monday. Yeo, however, declined to classify the injury as a concussion.

He also said that forward Charlie Coyle, who is on injured reserve and has missed the last six games, is "getting closer, but he's still a ways away."

Tim Thomas will get the call again for the Panthers. He's coming off a disappointing loss against his former team, with the Bruins scoring the game-winner with 58.7 seconds left in regulation.

With Thomas' return to health after missing time with a groin injury, veteran goalie Scott Clemmensen on Friday was loaned to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.

The game also marks the first time Panthers center Nick Bjugstad will face his home-state team. He won Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award in 2010 as a senior at Blaine High School and played three seasons at the University of Minnesota.

"It'll be exciting," said Bjugstad, who has one assist in two games after missing the start of the regular season because of a concussion. "Obviously I grew up watching the Wild. I was a fan. So it'll be a fun game."

Here are the projected lineups for the Wild and Panthers on Saturday:


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Jason Pominville

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Matt Cooke - Mikael Granlund - Nino Niederreiter

Torrey Mitchell - Zenon Konopka - Stephane Veilleux

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Jared Spurgeon - Marco Scandella

Clayton Stoner - Mathew Dumba

Josh Harding

Niklas Backstrom

Injured: Keith Ballard (upper body), Charlie Coyle (knee), Mike Rupp (lower body)

Scratched: Nate Prosser


Tomas Fleischmann - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes

Jonathan Huberdeau - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky

Scottie Upshall - Scott Gomez - Kris Versteeg

Shawn Matthias - Nick Bjugstad - Jesse Winchester

Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert

Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Matt Gilroy - Erik Gudbranson

Tim Thomas

Jacob Markstrom

Scratched: Ryan Whitney, Krys Barch

Injured: Ed Jovanovski (lower body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Steve Pinizzotto (lower body)

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