Charlie Coyle’s return to the Wild lineup gives coach Mike Yeo more options.
That became apparent Wednesday when, for the first time since Zach Parise joined the Wild, his usual centerman, Mikko Koivu, was on a different line.
When the Wild plays Montreal on Friday, not only is Coyle expected to return after missing 11 games because of a sprained knee, the second-year forward is expected to center Parise.
Koivu centered a line with Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak on Wednesday.
“I can’t say I was too surprised,” said Parise, second on the Wild with six goals. “It kind of felt like it was coming, but we just didn’t have Charlie to give us flexibility in the middle.”
Parise leads the Wild in scoring with nine points in 13 games. Koivu is tied for second with eight points. But while they have spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, they haven’t been productive at even-strength.
Parise and Koivu have each registered four 5-on-5 points, and the Wild is tied for 24th in the NHL with 16 5-on-5 goals.
“I thought we were getting a lot of great opportunities and spending a lot of time in the offensive zone,” Parise said. “But at the end of the day, we weren’t finishing. So I don’t think it really had anything to do with [us] not having chemistry. We weren’t putting the puck in the back of the net. That’s the objective of the game and we weren’t doing it.”
‘Pick your poison’
Yeo did everything Wednesday to dispute any sense that his line shakeups meant he was not happy with Parise or Koivu. He said that without Coyle, it’s been too easy for opponents to match their top defensive pair and best defensive forwards against Parise and Koivu.
“Now we’d like to think that we’re spread a little bit more where you might have to pick your poison,” Yeo said. “We’re looking at 5-on-5 production and how can we have at least three lines that are a real threat to score.”
For that reason, there’s not a conventional checking line. The other “scoring line” consists of Matt Cooke, Mikael Granlund and leading goal scorer, Jason Pominville, who has scored six of his seven goals the past eight games.
Yeo rotated veteran Dany Heatley and rookie Justin Fontaine between the right wing of the Parise-Coyle line and the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell.
“I think if you look at every line right now the way we’ve got it, we’ve got skill on each line, we’ve got a big body, we’ve got a guy that should get to the net,” Yeo said.
Fontaine has three goals and is second on the team with a plus-5. Heatley has one-empty net goal and two assists in 13 games.
Asked how he will decide whether Fontaine or Heatley skates with Parise and Coyle, Yeo said, “who’s playing the best.” When asked what it says that Heatley, who has 361 career goals, is even in the conversation to be on the fourth line, Yeo said, “I don’t even want to turn it into a story. We’ve got a lot of good players and you know what, he’s also an option for a very good line.”
‘Not going to change’
Koivu has one goal this season on 30 shots. In comparison, Parise is second in the NHL with 66 shots.
“You always want to score more and you want to produce offensively like any player,” Koivu said. “Obviously there’s ups and downs, but yeah, it’s my job to produce offensively and 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’m not going to change what I do. I believe it’s been working. I’m sure it’s going to work in the future as well.”
Coyle, 21, is just excited to get back in “no matter who I’m on a line with.” He had chemistry with Parise last season, only as the right wing on the Parise-Koivu line, not as the center. He doesn’t think his position matters.
He said it might take some time to get acclimated again to the speed and pace of games. He was hurt one period into the second game of the season and admitted he could feel Wednesday’s practice in his legs.
“As soon as the injury happened, I came into the locker room and wanted to punch through the wall,” Coyle said. “But I just tried to stay positive and I think that helped my recovery. I can’t wait to play.”