Wild fans have been desperately hoping that the Minnesota Wild would adopt the model that the Chicago Blackhawks used last season to win the Stanley Cup. At the beginning of the season, it looked like this wouldn't be the season it would happen. Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp and Stephane Veilluex were mainstays in the line-up night after night.
Things started to change at the beginning of January though. After trying and failing to trade Konopka for several months, Chuck Fletcher and his staff decided to place Konopka on waivers and send him to Iowa. The Buffalo Sabres claimed him, ending his career in a Minnesota Wild jersey (at least for the time being).
When Mikko Kouvi shattered his ankle on January 4th, the team was forced to call up Erik Haula from Iowa to serve as the 4th line center. He centered Torrey Mitchell and Veilluex for the last few games and saw limited ice time. But when Zach Parise returned from injury, the line-up needed to be adjusted so he could be placed in his rightful spot on the top line.
This set off a somewhat chain reaction with line changes that ended up looking like this:
Jason Zucker - Haula - Mitchell
It could all be a dream, but those look very much like 4 lines that all show scoring potential. Zucker is known for his fast speed and getting pucks towards the net. The Cook-Brodziak-Fontaine line has worked really well and is the main reason behind Fontaine's 12 goals so far this season (3rd on the team). The rest of the lineup speaks for itself when it comes to goal scoring.
So, how did it work in real life last night?
It actually looked really good, especially for the first attempt. The 2nd and 3rd lines scored, which frankly is pretty amazing. The 3rd line was matched up against Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp all night. The 2nd line faced Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw for most of the night (although the Hawks coach started switching lines as their efforts continued to yield nothing but frustration throughout the game).
The 4th line didn't see a lot of playing time, but they saw more minutes than the typical 4th line would play. Zucker was the only player on the team to play less than 10 minutes. Zucker and Haula showed some of the chemistry they had in Iowa, and nearly connected on a goal in the 3rd period that would have been icing on the cake.
In the long term, the only thing that bothers me is that the 4th line doesn't really have any strong guys like Coyle or Knightrider. But, if the Wild can use the speed of three of them, maybe strong bodies aren't needed. Yeo raved about the 4th line during his post game, and in particular the defensive play of Zucker.
The nice thing about these lines is that they all have strong guys who have a nose for getting pucks in the net somehow, but they also have guys who are pretty strong on defense as well. Hopefully Yeo sticks with these lines until at least Koivu's return and allows them some time to really gel.