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Practice Update: Blackhawks A Litmus Test; Lines Tweaked

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Watch out Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth this morning may have been the Wild locker room.

Whether it was last night's 3-1 win, Dany Heatley finally scoring (#50in14), or maybe a little something special in the sports drinks, the Wild were one happy group of guys. Jokes were tossed across the room, as players and Wild staff alike fell victim to one wisecrack after another. Whatever gave the team such a jovial attitude, the Lighthouse hopes it doesn't go away any time soon.

But this weekend will certainly be a hurdle as the Wild play a home-and-home with Central Division foe and defending Stanely Cup Champions the Chicago Blackhawks.

While the Hawks may not seem as omnipotent as last season, they’ve only dropped one decision in 10 games and are averaging 2.9 goals per game. Zach Parise said Saturday’s trip to Chicago will mark the Wild’s first real obstacle to see just how far the Minnesota team has come this season.

Head Coach Mike Yeo echoed that sentiment. Since the Wild has evolved its system into one that concentrates more on puck possession — and has by and large succeeded at it so far this season, although its record may not totally reflect it — the same tough Chicago team the Wild faced in the playoffs last year will be the necessary litmus test as to how well that new system is operating. Yeo also acknowledges it won’t be easy, noting how tough Chicago is defensively.

Saturday night the Wild will be without some key members of its lineup, once again. Neither Keith Ballard nor Jonas Brodin will make the trip. Ballard skated today for the first time since the Wild were in Tampa, on Oct. 16, but Brodin was held off the ice once again as he recovers from his broken right cheekbone. Yeo said there’s no timetable on Brodin as of yet, but he will not travel and won’t play in Monday’s matchup with the Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild will also be without a hot Josh Harding, who tweaked a lower-body injury Thursday night against Carolina and didn’t play in the third period. Harding still earned the win, giving up only one goal on 21 shots, bringing his goals against average up to 1.00 with a .957 save percentage. Harding didn’t skate today and Yeo said they want to give the netminder a chance to rest. The Wild recalled Johan Gustafsson from the Iowa Wild this morning, but Niklas Backstrom, who made seven saves in the third period in relief of Harding, will get the nod between the pipes tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Wild will tote some tweaked lines to Chicago. Here’s what fans can expect to see tomorrow night:

Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Justin Fontaine
Nino Niederreiter – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
Dany Heatley – Kyle Brodziak – Matt Cooke
Stephane Veilleux – Zenon Konopka – Torrey Mitchell

Yeo said he moved Heatley and Niederreiter because there was just a little more spark on the third line with Heatley, giving him more offensive opportunities.

The with Ballard and Brodin out, the d-pairs will also remain the same from Thursday:

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Nate Prosser - Marco Scandella
Clayton Stoner - Mathew Dumba

In other injury news Mike Rupp and Charlie Coyle both skated in practice today. Rupp worked in on the fourth line, rotating with Konopka, while Coyle rotated in with Brodziak on the third. Yeo said Coyle is really coming along, but again they want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before throwing him back into game action. Plus they’d like to see him get into more battles in practice.

Finally, don’t forget to vote on this week’s Wild Hits of the Week to make sure your favorite hit reigns supreme.

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