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Wild's Bottom-Six Looking To Return To Form

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

CHICAGO -- For the first time since Oct. 30, the Wild will have its 11 forwards, healthy, that it entered training camp with from last season. 

On Monday, Head Coach Mike Yeo said having that forward group creates internal competition, and pushes players to be better. What it also did early in the season, when the group was intact, was afford the Wild's bottom-six the opportunities to be very impactful.

"That's how you win; it's no secret," Zach Parise said. "You have to have everyone that's capable of playing the game, and at some point contributing offensively, and making plays.

"We have to get everyone going at the same time; that would be ideal."

When the season began, Head Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild's third line was constructed to score, and the fourth line to provide a change of pace, while taking difficult defensive assignments.

But injuries shuffled the deck, as Justin Fontaine and Zach Parise sustained knee injuries. It forced the Wild to turn to recalling players from Iowa and also into reconfiguring its lines with the healthy players it had at its disposal.

During Minnesota's 7-2-1 start to the season, the third line of Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle, and Fontaine was scoring, and the fourth line of Chris Porter, Erika Haula, and Ryan Carter was taking those difficult defensive assignments, and drawing penalties.

That figures to be the Wild's bottom six on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, in a matchup where depth will be paramount.

"It's huge," Fontaine said. "We know when we're going we're a team to be reckoned with and a big threat when we have all four lines going. That's when we're at our best, when everyone is getting involved."

In the 12 games with either Fontaine or Tyler Graovac in the lineup this season, the Wild's third line has scored nine goals. Without Fontaine, the Wild's third line has scored two goals in 11 games.

Fontaine returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing 11 games, and his line scored two even-strength goals. 

"When you can help produce offensively—we're more focused on tight defense right now, and going the other way with our turnovers, that's when we create the most on odd-man rushes," Fontaine said. "That's the main focus right now of our team."

Ryan Carter was held out of the game on Saturday because of a lower-body injury. When Fontaine was out, Carter slotted in on the third line, breaking up a line that has combined to draw 11 penalties and took a lot of shifts against the opposition's top lines. 

"It's a little different when you're away, but that's basically what we want to be quite honest," Haula said. "We want those challenges, and to kind of answer the bell with that. But whoever we're out there against, we have to get the job done."

The numbers also bear out well for each of the Wild's four lines when they have their full complement of players. Each line has a goals-for percentage above 50, meaning they have been on the ice for more even-strength goals for than against.

"The third line showed just how important they are to us and creating offense," Yeo said. "It's going to be really important tonight. You play against a team like this, and we know the kind of matchups that Zach is going to face, and Mikko is going to face, so we have to be dangerous somewhere else, and that's a group that can do that for us.

"That fourth line has very important roles for us in our penalty killing. Now we have a healthy group, these guys are going to be real important. Just generating momentum, and drawing penalties, when we were winning a lot of hockey games, those guys were an important part of that."

Here is the Wild's projected lineup:

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuNino Niederreiter

Zach PariseMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Thomas VanekCharlie CoyleJustin Fontaine

Chris PorterErik HaulaRyan Carter

Ryan SuterJonas Brodin

Marco ScandellaJared Spurgeon

Nate ProsserMatt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk


With the rosters for the 2016 NHL Stadium Series alumni game were announced on Tuesday, Mike Modano will be on NHL Live at 5:10 p.m. CT tonight with EJ Hradek and Steve Mears.

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