The undefeated Minnesota Wild square off against the Nashville Predators at 7 pm Tuesday evening at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild are closing out a three game home stand to start the season, while the Predators are starting a brutal seven game road trip. Minnesota is coming off a shutout win Sunday evening and have been sleeping in their own beds each night. Wild players certainly are appreciating that little scheduling quirk. Nashville has lost both of their games in shootouts, but picked up a precious point each night. The Wild are one of just three undefeated Western Conference teams after the opening weekend of the season. Nashville rolls into St.Paul on the second game of a back-to-back, losing Monday to St. Louis in a shootout by a final score of 4-3. After facing the Predators, the Wild head out on a two game road trip to Detroit and St. Louis.
The biggest story line of the evening is Ryan Suter‘s first game against the only team he has suited up for in his NHL career. Former Predator owner, and current Wild owner, Craig Leipold made the biggest splash in Wild free agent signing history on July 4th. The signings of Suter and Zach Parise to identical 13-year $98 million contracts rocked the hockey world. Suter and defensive partner Jared Spurgeon will go up against Nashville’s top line. It’s sure to be a little strange for Suter to be taking on his teammates from the past 7 seasons, but he’s all Wild now! Last year with Nashville, Suter put up career highs in points (46), assists (39) and power play points (25) playing with partner Shea Weber. He is already a mainstay on Minnesota’s #1 power play unit along with Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. That unit has already shown the ability to control the puck by spending significant stretches of time in the offensive zone. With only a week of training camp, 1 scrimmage and just two games with new partner Spurgeon, Suter is already showing why he was a prized free agent. The pair are showing some good chemistry and will only improve as the season moves along.
Look for Niklas Backstrom to return to the net for his second start of the year. He’s faced Nashville 12 times in his career, posting 7 victories, a .907 save percentage and a 2.83 goals against average. Both Backstrom and Josh Harding have played extremely well in their respective starts this season. The Wild may have two #1 goalies on their hands which would be a welcome luxury with 46 games over the next 95 days. Minnesota also has eight more sets of back-to-back games over that time span. I, for one, love the idea of a goalie tandem along the lines of the Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson duo from years past. Nashville #1 netminder Pekka Rinne has failed to post a win on the young season, losing a pair of shootouts. In his career against the Wild, Rinne has posted eight wins in 13 starts. Facing Minnesota, his .917 save percentage and 2.20 goals against are both close to his career averages. If this game comes down to a shootout, it is vital that Backstrom makes the first save. If he does, the Wild go on to win a majority of the time. If the first Nashville shooter scores, just be glad Minnesota gets a point on the night considering Backstrom has historically been the worst goaltender in the history of NHL shootouts.
The power play is another area in which Minnesota needs to see continued production. So far, the #1 unit has proved to be deadly with the man advantage. Both of Dany Heatley’s goals have come on the power play on assists by Koivu and Parise. In two games, Nashville has scored 3 of their season total 5 goals with the man advantage. The Wild will have to stay disciplined by staying out of the penalty box and keeping the Nashville power play powerless. The Wild penalty killers have yet to allow a power play marker. That being said, let’s keep the opposition’s chance to a minimum.
The memory of the last time the Predators came to the “X” is one that Wild fans would like to forget. A defensive collapse allowed Nashville to score 4 goals in the third period, beating the Wild 5-4 in regulation. Hopefully, with a revamped defensive lineup, including Ryan Suter, that will NOT happen again. Puck drop is 7pm tonight. It may be cold outside, but the Wild are HOT and it’s time to cook some Preds!