ST. PAUL, Minn. — With the hope of boosting his team’s scoring, Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo made quite a few changes to the team’s four forward lines Wednesday at practice. Among the most notable changes: Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu were split up for the first time since Parise joined the Wild last season.
Parise practiced on a line with center Charlie Coyle — who is likely to return to action Friday after missing time with a knee injury — and a rotation of wingers Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine. Meanwhile, Koivu centered a third line that consisted of Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak.
Yeo insisted Wednesday that it’s not necessarily a demotion for Koivu and doesn’t mean the Wild aren’t happy with their captain’s production. Instead, the hope is that it provides balance among Minnesota’s lines. Against Chicago on Monday, Parise and Koivu were matched up with the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing. This way, the production can be spread out a bit.
“With Charlie out, the way that we’ve had our lines, it’s been a little easy for teams to match up against us,” Yeo said. “There’s a big difference in this league playing against a top defensive pairing. There’s a big difference playing against top defensive forwards, too. Now we like to think that we’re spread a little bit more where you have to pick your poison.”
The Wild don’t play again until Friday when they host Montreal, so the lines from Wednesday’s practice are by no means set in stone. But it did allow Yeo and the coaching staff the opportunity to see how different line combinations worked with each other.
For Parise, it was a bit strange to skate on a line without Koivu, but he wasn’t shocked to see the change.
“I can’t say I was totally surprised,” Parise said. “I think for a while, we’ve been looking to get a little more offense 5-on-5. Outside of that five-goal game we had in Chicago, the 5-on-5 play hasn’t really been there. We’ve been missing Charlie for a long time, so now he’s back. It gives us a lot more different options down the middle.”
The 21-year-old Coyle played in just two games before injuring his knee against Anaheim on Oct. 5. In 37 games with Minnesota last year, Coyle scored eight goals — including two game-winners — and added six assists.
Now there’s a chance Coyle could join Parise on the top line when he returns to action on Friday.
“He brings a lot of speed through the middle,” Parise said of Coyle. “We’ve all seen him play. … He can put the puck in the net. We’ll see. It could be changed tomorrow. It depends on how they’re feeling tomorrow morning. But at least for today, it looked all right.”
Koivu has just one goal and seven assists through 13 games this year after scoring 11 goals with 26 assists in last year’s truncated season.
“Obviously you always want to score more and you want to produce offensively,” Koivu said Wednesday. “Overall, there’s ups and downs. But it’s my job to produce offensively. I haven’t been able to do that as much as I wanted, but at the same time there’s a lot of good in my game, too. I can’t change my game. I’ve got to play the way I’ve been playing. I believe as long as we have chances and can create around the net, it will come.”
Brodin back at practice: Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since breaking his cheekbone in a game on Oct. 22 when he took a puck to the face. Brodin was wearing a full face shield on his helmet to protect his face.
Brodin initially wore a cage-style mask with his helmet, but made the switch to the clear shield because he said it made it easier to see the puck. The swelling in Brodin’s face has subsided considerably over the past few days.
“I tried the cage four days ago, but I like this one better,” Brodin said.
When asked if he might return to action Friday against Montreal, Brodin wasn’t entirely sure. Yeo wouldn’t commit to playing Brodin, either.
“We’ll see. We’ve got a lot of healthy defensemen, and we want to make sure that when we get him back, we get him back for good,” Yeo said. “I don’t want to put him in a bad spot. He looked good today. That’s a good first step. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
Yeo added that defenseman Keith Ballard, who hasn’t played since Oct. 14 after also taking a puck to the face, should be ready to go by Friday.
Brodin’s injury was a scary one, but he admitted he’s watched the replay a few times. He remained on the ice for a while after he took a puck to the face and was eventually taken to a local hospital for X-rays. Brodin tried to turn his head to protect himself but wound up taking the puck in the cheek.
All things considered, the injury could have been much worse for the Wild’s second-year defenseman.
“It wasn’t that bad. It’s the cheekbone. You can play with it with the cage,” Brodin said. “It could be worse, but it was pretty scary at first.”
Wild welcome three-day respite: Last year’s lockout-shortened season meant the Wild and the rest of the NHL were seemingly playing a game every other night. Situations like this week, when Minnesota has three days straight with no games, would likely have never happened.
But the Wild welcome the change of pace after quite a few games crammed together in October. Minnesota has now played 13 games already this season, more than most teams.
Following Monday’s loss to Chicago, the Wild had three days to rest and prepare for Friday’s home game against Montreal.
“This is good for us, for sure,” Yeo said. “It hasn’t been as compact (as last year), but I would say the last portion of our schedule was going pretty good. The fact that we didn’t play yesterday and are still one of the top teams as far as games played shows you that you sandwich one or two extra games in there and it’s a big difference.”