Other people count sheep when they can't sleep. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau assembles line combinations.
Boudreau said Wednesday he doesn't think about his personnel deployment nonstop — "There's got to be an hour in there when I'm sleeping,'' he joked — but admitted that's the first place his mind goes when he wakes up in the middle of the night. His latest concoctions were on display during Wednesday's practice at Tria Rink, and they're likely to get their first real test Thursday at Winnipeg.
Physical winger Marcus Foligno has been elevated to the top line with center Eric Staal and right wing Kevin Fiala. The two Zs — left wing Jason Zucker and right wing Mats Zuccarello — flank Mikko Koivu. Zach Parise remains with center Luke Kunin and right wing Jordan Greenway on the third line, while the fourth is comprised of Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan Hartman.
Boudreau hopes the new combos can spark a lineup that has been outscored 9-4 in a pair of season-opening losses. Foligno lends some forechecking muscle to the top line, and Boudreau wants to see how Zuccarello fares with a swift linemate similar to Chris Kreider, whom Zuccarello skated with last season in New York.
"Jason's got good speed,'' Boudreau said. "He's quick, and he takes off. Zuccarello's looking for that speed. He had Kreider on his line last year, with great speed.
"I thought, 'OK, let's see if this thing could work.' You sit there and you think and you hope, and then you come to work and you apply it. And then you just hope all your thought process from the night before works.''
Zuccarello said he didn't like having a four-day break from competition when the Wild has yet to win a game. While Boudreau searches for trios with chemistry, Zuccarello said each player must consider his individual performance, too.
"It doesn't matter who you play with,'' Zuccarello said. "You've got to do the same job. You've got to work for your teammates.
"It doesn't matter what line you're on. It's the NHL. Everyone is a good hockey player. All you want to do right now is get the first win of the season and keep it going.''
It's Staal good
After taking Monday off for a "maintenance day,'' Staal returned to practice Wednesday. He said he was feeling "a little grind-y'' and took advantage of the four days between games to get some extra rest.
"It was good for me,'' said the center, who has only one shot on goal and no points through the first two games. "It feels a lot better having that extra day. It was beneficial for me to not skate, just with what I was dealing with. I'll be ready to go [Thursday].''
Though neither the team nor Staal has disclosed what is wrong, Boudreau said earlier this week that Staal is "not 100 percent.'' Asked if his physical issue might linger through the season, Staal emphatically answered no.
• Goaltender Devan Dubnyk is the probable starter Thursday, as the Wild begins a stretch of five games in eight days. Boudreau said backup Alex Stalock will make his season debut during that span and told him Wednesday to be ready.
• Boudreau hasn't decided which of his young defensemen — Nick Seeler or Carson Soucy — will play alongside Brad Hunt in the third defensive pairing on Thursday. Each has played one game.
"I didn't think either one of them played too bad,'' Boudreau said. "[Seeler] had a rough first period maybe against Nashville, but he settled right in and played well. I thought Soucy was really good against Colorado.''