MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild have not been playing up to the preseason hype or their potential.
In this lockout-shortened season, the time for a turnaround is tight.
Winless in four road games this season, the Wild (4-4-1) returned home. They’ll host Vancouver on Thursday. Seven of their next nine games are against Northwest Division teams, and the 48-game season is about 20 per cent gone.
So at practice on Wednesday at the St. Thomas Ice Arena, coach Mike Yeo shuffled his forward groups again.
Dany Heatley was taken off the first line to skate with centre Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Rookie Charlie Coyle replaced Heatley, joining centre Mikko Koivu and star Zach Parise.
“I wouldn’t say it was unexpected,” said Heatley, who has no points in his past four games after tallying four goals and two assists in the first five games. “I’m playing with two real creative guys, so hopefully we can get something going.”
Devin Setoguchi and Mikael Granlund rotated spots on the third line with centre Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. New acquisition Mike Rupp was on the fourth line with Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka.
Rupp, who came in a trade with the New York Rangers, will make his Wild debut against the Canucks.
“I’m just a complementary guy. There are a lot of good things going here,” Rupp said. “This team is headed in the right direction. I’m excited to be a part of it and contribute in any way. Obviously, my game is to play physical. I’m going to try to come in here and help this team win hockey games any way I can.”
Yeo joked that the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rupp already met one of his expectations: that he’s big.
“For as big as he is, he moves well. He’s got speed to get it in there on the forecheck and speed to get there and hit and play a physical game, but he’s also got some hands,” Yeo said. “He’s also got the ability to get shots off and play in the offensive zone, so that’s what we’re looking for.”
By calling up Coyle, trading Darroll Powe for Rupp and demoting Setoguchi and Granlund from the second line, the Wild have shown they’re not willing to simply wait for one of the deepest group of forwards the franchise has had to produce.
From owner Craig Leipold to general manager Chuck Fletcher to Yeo and his staff, there’s a demand of success that’s hanging heavier over this team than before.
“Normally we’ve played nine games and you have more time to sort things out, but you don’t have as much time,” Yeo said. “So certainly it magnifies things. We just have to make sure that we’re doing whatever we can to find the best mix to put the best product on the ice.”
The Wild have scored only 21 goals in nine games.
“After the additions we’ve made, we feel we have a real good team in here. I believe there is urgency with that short season. We talked about it the other day: The last 15-20 games, you’re not going to move very much in the standings, up or down,” Heatley said. “These next 20 are huge for us.”
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