On Day 2 of his latest experiment with the Wild’s lines, coach Mike Yeo liked the way his players were adapting to the new combinations. “The guys are excited and anxious to try it out,’’ Yeo said after Thursday’s practice. “But it’s one thing to do it in practice and another to do it in a game.’’
That next step will come Friday, when the Wild plays Montreal at Xcel Energy Center. Yeo reworked his lines Wednesday in an attempt to trigger more five-on-five scoring throughout the lineup, addressing a lingering sore spot for a 6-4-3 team. Thursday’s workout was designed to give the new lines more familiarity with each other as players learn how they fit in fresh roles and untried combinations.
One thing Yeo is not worried about: defense. Though the lineup does not include a clearly defined checking line, Yeo said the commitment to defense he has seen from all of his players gives him the flexibility to experiment more freely.
Yeo asserted that center Mikael Granlund has developed the ability to defend any opposing player, and he expects center Charlie Coyle — who will return to the lineup Friday after missing 11 games because of a sprained knee—to do the same.
“It’s easy to look at what [Granlund] has done offensively in the last little bit, but it started with his defensive game,’’ Yeo said. “There’s no reason why Charlie shouldn’t be very effective at that, too. [He has] a big body, he’s a smart hockey player, he moves well. And obviously Mikko [Koivu], we have no concerns about him going against top guys.
“We think the wingers complement the guys they’re around. We should feel comfortable with any line going out against anybody.’’
The new combinations, Yeo hopes, will give the Wild three lines that can score. Coyle will center Zach Parise and either Justin Fontaine or Dany Heatley, while Granlund will center Matt Cooke and Jason Pominville. Kyle Brodziak has moved to wing, joining Nino Niederreiter on a line centered by Koivu.
Save for a shift or two, Brodziak hasn’t played on the wing for some time. He is game to try it and eager to see where the experiment leads.
“I think it’s beneficial for the team,’’ said Brodziak, who had been centering the Wild’s third line and has two goals and two assists. “Especially early on, it’s nice to be able to try different things and see what options we have.’’
Defenseman Keith Ballard is expected to return to the lineup Friday after missing seven games because of a concussion. Thursday, Ballard practiced with the second power-play unit and drew high praise from Yeo for his skill in playing the point.
Ballard’s mobility, Yeo said, allows him to move along the blue line to open up shooting lanes. The veteran also has the ability to get his shots through to the net—and the savvy to know when to seize the opportunity.
“He’s got his head up,’’ Yeo said. “He’s walking the line. He made some nice reads as far as when to move the puck and when to distribute the puck, and when there’s a lane, he’s taking that shot. And I like that.’’
Yeo wasn’t sure whether defenseman Jonas Brodin would remain on the sidelines Friday. But he reiterated that he doesn’t want him to return to the lineup until he is certain that Brodin is fully recovered from a broken cheekbone. “He looks good in practice right now, but we don’t want to rush him,’’ Yeo said.
• As they were configured Thursday, each of the Wild’s power-play units included players from several different lines. Yeo said that could make it tricky to transition between the power play and even strength, a situation he is monitoring.
“If you have a line out there for 40 seconds and they draw a power play, that’s going to be pretty tough to have a tired player going out there,’’ he said. “That doesn’t benefit anybody. We wanted to try that today, and we’ve got to figure some stuff out.’’
• With Coyle rejoining the lineup, winger Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers Thursday and was assigned to the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa.