(AP) - 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) return home to face the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night. Seven of their next nine games are against Northwest Division teams, and the 48-game season is about 20 percent gone.
So at practice on Wednesday, coach Mike Yeo shuffled his forward groups again.
Dany Heatley was taken off the first line to skate with center Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Rookie Charlie Coyle replaced Heatley, joining center 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. "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 center 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."
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 groups 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 - including one in each of their last two, losses at Anaheim and Phoenix.
The Canucks, meanwhile, arrive in St. Paul riding a three-game winning streak. They've allowed just three goals during that stretch, entirely with Roberto Luongo in net.
Cory Schneider, the starter to begin the season with Luongo the subject of trade talks, will return to the crease Thursday. Schneider has a 3.13 goals-against average in four starts compared to Luongo's 1.53 GAA in six appearances.
"I'm really excited," Schneider said. "Lu's done his job, and now it's my turn to jump in and try to keep that going. You never want to be the guy that halts the momentum."
Vancouver (5-2-2) kept it going in overtime Monday in Edmonton, beating the Oilers 3-2. Kevin Bieksa tied the score late in regulation, then Luongo stopped Taylor Hall's penalty shot in the extra period before Chris Tanev scored his first NHL goal with 20 seconds left in OT.
The Canucks should face another challenge in Minnesota, where they've yielded five goals or more four times while losing six of their last eight visits.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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