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Lines Shaken Up Heading Into Thursday

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Only three (winless) games in and the injury bug is already biting hard.

One game after losing center Charlie Coyle to a knee sprain, the Wild saw its starting goaltender, Niklas Backstrom, leave Tuesday’s 3-2 loss at Nashville early after Predators forward Eric Nystrom crashed into him, causing his leg to awkwardly wrap around the pipe.

Backstrom was evaluated this morning and is day-to-day. As a result, Josh Harding — who made 19 saves in relief after allowing a penalty shot early in the first — will get the nod between the pipes Thursday as the Wild return home to face new Central Division rival, the Winnipeg Jets.

Head coach Mike Yeo said Backstrom will be evaluated once again this afternoon to determine if he can backup Harding Thursday. If not, the Wild will likely call up Darcy Kuemper from the Iowa Wild, but we’ll know more on that later this afternoon.

Backstrom did not practice today. Instead, the Wild called John Curry, a Shorewood native, to stand in. Curry played in four NHL games for the Penguins between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Last season he played for the Wild’s ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears. The Wild were able to call on him with the uncertainty around Backstrom before the goalie left Minnesota for the season.

The injured goaltender wasn’t the only one grabbing headlines this morning. The Wild called up forward Stephane Veilleux from the Iowa Wild, sending forwards Jason Zucker and Carson McMillan back to Des Moines. More on that news can be found here.

Yeo said the move was largely due to how he’s reformed the lines. After three losses to open the season, Yeo is looking for something more from the offense, specifically more contributions throughout the lineup. Here’s how the lines looked today in practice and are expected to remain the same tomorrow:

Zach PariseMikko KoivuNino Niederreiter

Dany HeatleyMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Matt CookeKyle BrodziakJustin Fontaine

Torrey MitchellZenon KonopkaStephane Veilleux

Yeo indicated that moving Pominville down to the second line is not a slight against him in any way, really it’s a compliment as Yeo hopes the winger can help spark some more scoring opportunities with Granlund and Heatley.

“We need something from somebody else,” Yeo said. “In looking at that game last night, our top line has probably 90 percent of our scoring chances. Certainly they should lead the way, but we need something somewhere else.”

Not only did the lines change, but Yeo also made some changes on defense as well:

Ryan SuterJonas Brodin

Jared SpurgeonKeith Ballard

Clayton StonerMathew Dumba

Marco ScandellaNate Prosser

The bench boss said he doesn’t want Dumba to sit out too long and liked what he saw from him and Stoner as a pair in the preseason against Winnipeg. With Stoner and Dumba paired — both of whom have skated with Ballard in their respective games so far this season — Yeo said he wants to see how Ballard and Spurgeon work together, while also giving Ballard a chance to move back on the left side.

Still searching for its first win three games into the season, the line changes, top to bottom, underscore the sense of urgency within the locker room. The Wild have played well in each of its three games so far, but those 10 to 20 minute lapses in each contest have spelled its downfall.

Though, Yeo said even if the Wild were 3-0 right now, there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t have shaken up the line combinations.

“Everyday we’re coming to the rink and we’re trying to get better,” Yeo said. “And one of those is we want to get used to playing with different guys. We want to see some different combinations and how they work.”

But make no mistake, Yeo & co., remain fully aware of the zero that still lingers in its win column and are working to learn from their past mistakes.

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