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Wild-Maple Leafs Preview

AP - Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson has split Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul off the top line in an attempt to spark the team's slumping offense.

The Maple Leafs might not need much production from their All-Star forwards with the Minnesota Wild coming to town.

Toronto tries to avoid its first four-game skid since 2010 on Thursday night when the Wild seek to end a 10-game road losing streak.

With the Maple Leafs (22-18-5) scoring just four goals during their skid, Wilson wasted little time following Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Ottawa to give his top two lines a face lift.

Kessel, the team leader with 24 goals and 49 points, skated with Tyler Bozak and Matthew Lombardi during Wednesday's practice, while Lupul - second on the club with 48 points - was on the second line with Tim Connolly and Nazem Kadri.

"At least for a period (on Thursday) we'll see if something like that helps us," Wilson said.

Kessel has not found the back of the net in the last four games, while Lupul snapped a three-game stretch without a goal on Tuesday.

Kadri, a healthy scratch against the Senators, feels the line changes could light a fire under both players and help the Maple Leafs avoid their first four-game skid since an 0-3-1 stretch from Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2010.

"I think it could stir the pot a little," said Kadri, the seventh overall pick in 2009. "... They're good enough players to provide offense on their own."

The Wild (22-17-7), who are scoring just 2.2 goals per game, wish they had that type of offensive firepower. Minnesota will need Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen and others to help pick up the slack for the next two weeks as captain and leading scorer Mikko Koivu will be sidelined with an apparent shoulder injury suffered Saturday in a 3-2 shootout loss at St. Louis.

Playing their first game without the All-Star forward, the Wild lost 5-1 at Philadelphia on Tuesday, dropping to 0-4-1 overall this season when he doesn't play.

The club is 2-10-4 since a seven-game win streak from Nov. 28-Dec. 10, and an 11th consecutive road loss would match the team's longest run of futility there since Nov. 20, 2006 to Jan. 9, 2007.

"It's ridiculous on our part,'' coach Mike Yeo said. "Just because bad things happen, we can't play our game. We have to fix that.''

The Wild also have to find ways to score on the road. They have been outscored 31-10 during their skid away from home. Minnesota outscored opponents 24-13 while winning a franchise-record seven straight on the road prior to this stretch.

It's uncertain if the Wild will face Jonas Gustavsson or James Reimer on Thursday. Reimer made 18 saves Tuesday in his first appearance since New Year's Eve. He's 3-5-3 with a 3.21 goals-against average in his last 12 starts.

"We've got to find a way to score some more goals in front of him and get him to feel comfortable," Wilson said.

Reimer stopped 29 shots and earned his third career shutout the last time these clubs met, a 3-0 Maple Leafs road win March 22.

Nicklas Backstrom, who has one of the league's lowest goal-support averages at 2.24, goes for a second consecutive win in Toronto. He made 37 saves in the Wild's last visit, a 5-2 victory Nov. 10.

The Maple Leafs had won their first four home games against Minnesota by a combined 15-6 margin and lead the all-time series 6-3-0.

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