The Minnesota Wild will take to Anaheim’s Honda Center ice in their first meeting with the Ducks on the season. Minnesota flew in yesterday, coming off of an exciting 3-2 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Thanks to the efforts of the San Jose Sharks last night, the Wild are still first (though tied) in the Northwest Division with 9 points and a 4-2-1 record.
With a less than stellar road record (0-1-1) thus far, Minnesota will need to stick to their keys for success and play their game. The way they do or do not stick to their system will dictate whether or not they come away with points on this trip. Collecting two points each from both the Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes will certainly help them stay afloat in a very competitive Western Conference. You can also be sure that the team will be closely following the outcomes of games involving their division rivals.
Anaheim enters the night with a 3-1-1 record, good enough for second in the Pacific Division. However, it will be tough for the Ducks to catch the San Jose Sharks, who lead the division—and the Western Conference—with 14 points via an undefeated 7-0-0 record.
Who’s hot? Well, for Minnesota, in the past few games it would undoubtedly be second pairing defenseman Tom Gilbert. At 30 years old, the Bloomington, Minnesota native would be considered the elder statesman of the Wild blue line. However, his play has been more like that of a 25 year old defenseman. In seven games, Gilbert has potted two goals and notched four assists for six points, an even plus-minus rating, a power play point, 12 shots on goal, four hits and 17 blocked shots—oh—and a partridge in a pear tree. Gilbert has a four-game point streak going right now and, if he gets on the score sheet tonight, will tie his record point streak of five consecutive games. Not only is Gilbert the leading scorer from Minnesota’s blue line, but he has also played a very strong, defensively sound game in his own end.
The Ducks are led in scoring by a somewhat unlikely duo in Daniel Winnik and Saku Koivu, the elder brother of Minnesota’s very own captain, Mikko. They are tied in team scoring with 7 points (five goals, two assists and one goal, six assists, respectively). However, never count out the deadly quartet of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne. Once they find their scoring groove, all bets are off.
Players to keep your eye on: For Minnesota, the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley is certainly one of the deadliest lines in the NHL. In seven games, this line has combined for 11 goals, 12 assists and 23 points. With the lack of secondary scoring at the start of the season, this line was relied upon quite heavily to lift Minnesota to victory. The top guys look like they’ve run out of steam the past two games against Columbus and Chicago but, hopefully, they’ve been able to get some rest in their day off yesterday and should be gassed up and ready to hit the ice. If the secondary scoring continues to roll like they have they past two games, Minnesota’s offense will be fine and the top line won’t be played into the ground.
Also, keep an eye on the top defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and rookie Jonas Brodin. Suter started out the season paired with Jared Spurgeon but, after taking a shot off the inside of the leg, Spurgeon fell to injury and in came 2011 10th overall pick Brodin. The young Swede has performed beautifully on the Wild’s top pairing and could very well be there to stay. In four games playing top minutes, in a shutdown role, against some of the best in the West, Brodin has notched two assists, is an even plus-minus rating, has fired three shots on goal, has a hit and has blocked two shots. Not known as an offensive or physical player, Minnesota’s top defensive prospect has revealed a surprisingly heavy shot that will find the back of the net sooner rather than later.
A guy all NHL fans should keep an eye on is Anaheim Duckling (rookie) Emerson Etem. A Long Beach, California native, the 29th overall pick in 2010 made stops in Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep School in Minnesota and the USNDP in both the NAHL and USHL before going playing three seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. In 202 career WHL regular season games, Etem scored 143 goals and 109 assists for 252 points, including a whopping 61 goals, 46 assists and 107 points in 65 games last season. He also added 24 goals and 20 assists for 44 points in 34 career WHL playoff games. Tonight will be his second career NHL game; could he find the back of the net? It’ll be up to the Wild defense to delay it another night.
Tonight is going to be an interesting and entertaining matchup between these two teams. Be sure to tune in at 9pm Central Time on Fox Sports North to watch the game and check back with us afterwards for the game recap.