The Minnesota Wild limp back home after the first road trip of the season. A loss to the Red Wings and an OT loss to the Blues make the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center pretty appealing. A win Tuesday evening against the Columbus Blue Jackets would keep the Wild in at least a tie for the top spot in the Northwest Division and above .500 for the season. So far, Minnesota is 2-1 at home with one shutout. The Blue Jackets have a single road win on the young season, and a 2-3-1 record overall, sitting in 3rd place in the Central Division. Both teams joined the NHL in 2000, with the Wild the more successful of the two. Minnesota has made three playoff appearances, including a run to the conference finals, while the Jackets’ single appearance came in 2009.
In terms of star power, the two are headed in opposite directions. During the extended off season, the Wild added free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter while Columbus saw All-Star Rick Nash depart for the New York Rangers. In the last 21 times the teams have met at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild have won 14, averaging 3 goals a game to 2.2 for the Blue Jackets. This evening is the 500th game at the Xcel Energy Center for your Minnesota Wild. Has it really been 500 times that we’ve heard “Let’s Play Hockey”, 500 games of “Let’s Go Wi–ld” chants, 500 games of the State of Hockey flag planted at center ice? Yes, tonight is 500 games of Wild hockey in St. Paul.
Look for Josh Harding in goal, if Head Coach Mike Yeo keeps alternating netminders as he has done so far this season. Harding sports a 1-1 record with a shutout, 2.56 goals against average, and a .902 save percentage. The Blue Jackets ended a four game losing streak last night, winning for the first time since opening night behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus and former Minnesota Head Coach Todd Richards may ride Bobrovsky’s hot hand, trying to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. Richards is not the only connection between the Wild and the Blue Jackets. Colton Gillies, a waiver wire pickup by the Jackets, returns to face his old team for the 2nd time.
Fans may see some line changes as the Wild take the ice this evening. Ten of the team’s 13 goals, and 54% of their offensive production, has come from the top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Dany Heatley. Last game, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (C) and Matt Cullen (C) switched spots on the 2nd and 3rd lines. Bouchard skated with Devin Setoguchi and rookie Mikael Granlund. That put two of the teams best puck handlers together with scorer Setoguchi. The Wild are trying to find combinations that can produce some goals and chances out of rebounds. Too many times the Wild get a shot attempt and see the puck moving out of the zone rather than converting on secondary scoring opportunities. Coach Yeo says the team hasn’t hit full stride yet after a truncated training camp and just 5 games played. The team, however, is on a three game losing streak and, with only 48 games on the schedule, every point is precious. The Wild are giving up an average of 3 goals a game, while scoring only 2.6, that’s even with their average for last season in which they ranked in the bottom third of the league. More line changes may be coming tonight, as Yeo continues to juggle the line up seeking goal producing chemistry.
Defensively, Jared Spurgeon is questionable for this evening’s action with a bone bruise suffered while blocking a shot a couple of games ago. Rookie Jonas Brodin will see action tonight, his third game since being called up from Houston. Coach Yeo continues to deflect criticism of Ryan Suter, who is a team worst negative-5. He pointed out that Suter played a team high in minutes against the Blues, 27:44 including time on the #1 power play and penalty kill units. The injury to Spurgeon has shaken up the defensive pairings, with Gilbert and Stoner seeing time with Suter against opponents’ top offensive threats. Tonight, Brodin will be paired with Suter. The Wild are not overly concerned with the current three game slide, but do say things need to change quickly. The team did score 7 goals in the two road losses to Detroit and St. Louis, two teams expected to be some of the best in the Western Conference. A win tonight will keep the Wild in the mix at the top of the conference, and give the boys some confidence heading into the second game of a back-to-back homestand against the Chicago Blackhawks. GonePuckWild.com will be here with post game analysis soon after tonight’s action. GO WILD!