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Konopka Expected To Return; Wild Focused On Scoring First

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

The Wild’s lineup has been a little — how should we put it? — fluid lately. With a host of injuries picking on the forwards, Head Coach Mike Yeo has had to do his best fit the right pieces together like a 1,000 piece puzzle.

The main concern has been up the middle where the Wild lost pair of centers last week. On second line Mikael Granlund was placed on IR with an upper-body injury after skating for only 29 seconds against the Coyotes Nov. 27. On the fourth line, centerman Zenon Konopka left Nov. 29’s tilt with the Avalanche early after he was struck in the eye with a puck.

Well tonight, as the Wild preps for its third game in four nights, the lineup will receive a little boost as Konopka is expected to return. Sporting quite the shiner that looks as if he lost a quick bout with Rocky Balboa, Konopka will temporarily wear a visor on doctor’s orders. He noted the injury was a little scary at first.

“I lost some of my vision for a little while,” Konopka said. “I couldn’t focus for a few hours. It makes you think of not taking things for granted — a high stick is one of them. I feel a lot better and can see clearly now.”

Though Konopka fully participated in practice, Yeo wasn’t forthcoming about who would be on that fourth line as Erik Haula and Mike Rupp rotated on the wing. Yeo said they plan on taking the combination into warm-ups and deciding from there.

Haula made his NHL debut Friday, picking up an assist on the night. WildTV caught up with the former Golden Gopher to chat about the experience. Though he lamented the loss, Haula said the experience went well overall and picking up his first NHL point wasn’t too bad either.

“Just being able to create some chances and build my confidence, that was probably the biggest thing for me,” Haula said.

Meanwhile the Wild will stick with the same top line as at Colorado, with Jason Pominville on the wing alongside Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Charlie Coyle will remain at center on the second line, with Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley on his wings. Finally, Yeo will keep Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Torrey Mitchell together. The trio stood out in Saturdays 3-2 shootout loss, battling the whole game and eventually putting the Wild on the board with 3:27 left in the third.

Though Yeo switched up the top two D-pairs in Colorado for the start of the game, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will be reunited tonight as Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon also return to familiarity. Josh Harding will start in net once again, looking to bounce back from his first home loss of the season Friday night.

Harding has undoubtedly been one of the most reliable players for the Wild this season, giving the team a chance to win almost night in and night out, Yeo noted that the team needs to focus on not giving up that first goal.

Over the last seven contests the Wild has allowed its opponent to score first, going 2-4-1 in that stretch.

“It’s one thing to not score, it’s another thing to not give it up,” Yeo said. “Sometimes we’re so focused on going out and scoring that we also need a bit of a focus to make sure that you don’t give up the first one because it’s too difficult to do it game after game after game.”

This is especially important tonight as the Wild’s opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers, have an 11-3-1 record when scoring first. The Flyers are currently riding a two-game winning streak. After a tough October (where it when 3-8-0), Philadelphia has picked up its game, posting a 9-4-2 record in November — matching the Wild’s record on the month.

“It looks like they’re really getting it together,” Yeo said. “First off, we have a lot of respect for the skill that they have on that team. I think they’ve been playing the game with good defensive posture and structure. Obviously doing a good job keeping pucks out. I know that goals haven’t come easily to them at all times this year but it seems with that lineup it’s just a matter of time.”

Philadelphia has only played seven games against the West this season, earning a 3-3-1 record. But it has yet to outright lose against the Central Division, going 2-0-1. The Wild on the other hand has an 8-3-2 record against the East, with a similar record against the Metropolitan Division, 3-0-1.

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