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With time to work before next game, Wild start tweaking lines

Minnesota Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek (14) defends Las Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault (81) in the second period at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Oct. 6, 2018. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL — The Wild have three practices before playing again Thursday, Oct. 11, against the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center. There is plenty to work on, and a few early changes.

During practice Monday at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul, coach Bruce Boudreau tweaked all but the fourth line after the Wild managed just one goal each in season-opening losses to Colorado and Vegas.

"Obviously, we didn't have much offense, so something's got to change, right?" Boudreau said.

Boudreau moved Joel Eriksson Ek up to play left wing on the top line with center Eric Staal and right winger Jason Zucker; Mikael Granlund skated on the second line with center Mikko Koivu and left winger Zach Parise; and Nino Niederreiter was with the third line with center Jordan Greenway and right winger Charlie Coyle.

"It's just a subtle change, but I think I like Nino better on left wing than maybe on right wing, and we'll see," Boudreau said.

Granlund had no points on five shots playing the top line; Ek had no points on two shots on the third line, the only shots from a line that struggled to generate any sort of offensive threat in the first two games.

The Wild meet the Blackhawks for a 7 p.m. puck drop Thursday at the X before playing host to Carolina on Saturday.

"I think it's really good the fact that we get a chance to work on some stuff, because there's a lot of things we need to work on from last week's showing," Boudreau said. "It gives us an opportunity to work on them."

The Wild scored first against the Avalanche and Knights, then went dormant in a 4-1 loss at Colorado and 2-1 shootout loss in the home opener. They were a combined 0 for 6 with 10 shots on power plays, including a four-on-three advantage in overtime Saturday.

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk kept the Wild in both games and was particularly sharp against Vegas, when he stopped 41 of 42 shots and was untouched until the Knights pulled the goaltender with just under two minutes to play.

"Thank God, you know? He's been unbelievable," Boudreau said. "We hope he can continue this, and we hope our offense can be much better."

Dubnyk has allowed three goals on 80 shots, a .963 save percentage.

"It's obviously a good time to practice," the goaltender said Saturday. "You get two real games under your belt and see where things are at, and then you go back to practice. But I think with us, we as a group know how we have to play, and when we do, we're extremely tough to beat. So I've got no doubt in my mind that we'll pick things up a little bit."

Kunin to Iowa

Forward Luke Kunin was cleared to play on Sunday and assigned to the Wild's American Hockey League team in Iowa.

Recovering from April 3 reconstruction surgery on his left knee, Kunin, 20, was with the Wild through all of training camp but wasn't cleared to practice at full contact until last week.

Boudreau and the Wild think highly of Kunin, who was establishing a niche with the team last season when he was injured in a 5-2 victory over Detroit on March 4. He had two goals and two assists in 19 NHL games, and 10 goals and nine assists in 36 games in Des Moines.

Asked when Kunin might be recalled to St. Paul, Boudreau said, "I think everything depends on him, and the way we play."

Iowa beat Manitoba twice last week by a combined score of 12-2.

"They've got a lot of guys sitting there going, 'Hey, if (the Wild) keep stumbling, I want to get my chance up there,'" Boudreau said.

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