DENVER – One day after saying he didn’t want to remove Jason Pominville from the first line in an attempt to solve the scoring woes of the second line, Mike Yeo did just that.
“Things change,” the Wild coach said Friday.
What changed was one more loss in a five-game road skid the Wild is trying hard to snap.
Stemming from its 3-1 defeat Thursday in San Jose, center Erik Haula and left wing Jason Zucker switched locations again. Haula was recalled from American Hockey League Iowa after a two-goal performance in a victory over Abbotsford on Thursday. Zucker was reassigned after a poor game in Anaheim and a healthy scratch in San Jose.
The move was made so the Wild can spread out the scoring on a team that ranks 29th on the road in goals per game (1.75) and has just four in the past five road games.
With Mikael Granlund about to miss his ninth game because of a concussion, the Wild needed a center so it could move Coyle back to first-line right wing next to Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu on Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche. That’s where Coyle has been most productive in his short NHL career.
Haula will center Nino Niederreiter and Pominville, who leads the Wild with 15 goals. Pominville’s early-season success came on the second line, albeit with Granlund as his center.
Considering that Granlund was lost his first shift after missing two games because of a concussion, the Wild is essentially 4-6-1 without Granlund with 17 goals scored (1.5 per game).
“We need to find a way to create a little more offense here, and Haula, we liked his game when he was here, especially when he played center,” Yeo said. “He showed speed, he showed he had a good stick, [was a] smart player and we’ll give him a chance.”
With Haula back up and Yeo saying that 21-year-old Brett Bulmer earned a second consecutive game Saturday, one other forward will have to join veteran Mike Rupp as a healthy scratch against the Avs.
The candidates are Justin Fontaine, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka and veteran goal scorer Dany Heatley. Yeo wouldn’t divulge which one would sit, although he said he liked Heatley’s game in San Jose — an eight-minute night that included no shots but no glaring turnovers, which has been his issue lately. The Wild probably needs Konopka to play center and Mitchell has played well on the third line, especially Nov. 30 in Denver, so Fontaine could be the odd-man out.
Most important is figuring out how to score. Obviously Parise, Koivu and Pominville shoulder much of the responsibility, but the Wild desperately needs players such as Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak (no goals in the past 22 games) to contribute and especially youngsters Niederreiter and Coyle.
Niederreiter has no goals and two assists in the past 10 games. Coyle has one goal and three assists in the past 14 games and three goals this season.
The 21-year-olds — understandably — have not yet shown the ability to produce on a consistent basis. He also said that often young players “go with the flow,” and he met with Niederreiter and Coyle about being forces even when Parise, Koivu or Pominville are having off nights.
“I’m not trying to make excuses because I think it’s one of the strengths of our team is the youth that we have and the room for growth,” Yeo said. “As these guys get better and as they grow, then our team is going to get better and grow and they’ve already proven that they’re very capable NHL players.
“The amount of players that we have below the age of 23 that we have playing in a significant forward role, the amount of players we have below the age of 23 in our top-four defense, we definitely have a very young group that we’re asking a lot of and I think that we’ve seen that a lot of the times with the [lack of] scoring and I think that we’ve seen that sometimes with the road woes that we’ve had, too.
“Younger players have to learn to win on the road.”
Coyle said despite sitting ninth in the West on Friday, players are still positive after a solid 5-on-5 effort against the Sharks.
“There’s still a lot of season left to be played,” Coyle said. “We just have to be positive from here on out. No matter what happens during games — bad penalty or they score first — just try to find a way to turn the momentum in the favor. We’ll be OK.”