The Minnesota Wild continue their West Coast road trip tonight when they face off with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Wild are coming off a loss and disappointing performance against Anaheim. Minnesota is tied for 2nd in the Northwest Division with a 4-3-1 record and 9 points. Phoenix is currently 3rd in the Pacific, posting a 3-4-2 record and totaling 8 points. The Wild and Coyotes have split their last four meetings, with the road team walking away with the “W”. Coincidentally, the Wild are still searching for their first road win of the season.
Head Coach Mike Yeo is shaking things up offensively by changing up the second, third and fourth lines. Don’t worry, he won’t mess with what has generally been a successful top line of Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, and Mikko Koivu. That trio has accounted for 11 of the team’s 19 goals and 12 of 32 assists. Top prospect Charlie Coyle has been called up from the Houston Aeros, and joined the Wild in Phoenix. For a great article on Charlie click here. At practice Sunday, and today, Yeo had the rookie Coyle skating with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the 2nd line and on the #2 power play unit. So far this year, Coyle has scored 14 goals and added 10 assists in 44 games with the Aeros. Going into tonight, the lines for the Wild look to be:
#1 Parise, Koivu, Heatley
#2 Bouchard, Cullen, Coyle
#3 Mitchell, Brodziak, Clutterbuck
#4 Setoguchi, Konopka, Granlund
Look for two of the fourth line wingers, Darroll Powe and Matt Kassian to be healthy scratches. Faced with possibly not skating against the Coyotes, Setoguchi said, “You can’t really sit and sulk about it and dwell on it….If I’m in, I’m in. If not, then I try to get back in the lineup.” Powe’s scratch would be his first in two seasons with Minnesota. Head Coach Yeo is sending a clear message to the whole lineup with the changes and call-up with out an injury. Secondary scoring has been in short supply this season for the Wild. Coach Yeo is trying to improve chemistry and motivate the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines. The rookie, Coyle, is described as a big, tough, power forward who is good with the puck and has a scorer’s touch. He has excelled at every level of his career so far, and he gets his first action in the “show” tonight.
Defensively, the Wild are still without Jared Spurgeon, who was placed on injured reserve Sunday. He is still recovering from a deep bone bruise in his foot that occurred while blocking a shot against Columbus last week. Jonas Brodin has moved in to his spot on the top defensive pair with Ryan Suter. The rest of the d-pairings look to be Tom Gilbert with Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk with Marco Scandella. D-man Nate Prosser seems to be in Yeo’s dog house and will likely be scratched tonight.
In the loss to Anaheim, the Wild failed to stick to their system. Quickly moving the puck up and out of the defensive zone and getting it in behind the opposing defense is key. Allowing the Minnesota forecheckers to get to work, generating chances for the snipers while maintaining puck control and limiting turnovers are musts. Phoenix is coming off a shutout of the Dallas Stars on Saturday. They are led by Radim Vrbata‘s 9 points (3g, 6a). Captain Shan Doan has been off to a slow start this season with only a pair of goals to date. The Coyotes also feature former Wild players Nick Johnson and Zbynek Michalek. Notable injuries for Phoenix include forward Steve Sullivan (lower body), Forward Matthew Lombardi (upper body), and defenseman Rostislav Klesla (lower body). This will be the second game of the season for thug Raffi Torres. He debuted Saturday, after finishing his 21 game suspension for his vicious hit on Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tonight, the Wild need to get off to a quick start, control the puck and limit penalties. Minnesota has had two days off, and some intense practices, in preparation for this game. It’s still early in the season but, with the short compressed schedule, the team needs to get back on track NOW. Hopefully, Friday night was just a bad game and not a trend. It would be great to see the second and third lines take some of the scoring pressure off of Koivu, Heatley and Parise. Avoiding a parade to the penalty box, while generating some power play chances, will take some offensive zone time away from Phoenix. Both Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are capable of stealing games for the Wild, but the toll of facing high shot-on-goal totals night in and night out will wear them down. The Wild need to keep their feet moving while keeping the puck headed north and south to force opponents into taking penalties. The #1 power play unit of Heatley, Koivu, Parise, Suter and Bouchard is among the best in the league. Getting them on the ice to work their puck magic is another key to winning. We could also see Zenon Konopka and Paul Bissonnette–aka Biz Nasty–drop the gloves. Two of the leagues best on Twitter will get the war of word going soon. Check them out at @ZenonKonopka and @BizNasty2point0 on Twitter.
Coach Yeo has sent the team a message over the last couple of days. Tonigh,t we find out if the boys have heard it and show it on the ice. GonePuckWild.com will have a full game wrap-up after tonight’s game. Puck drop is at 8pm central, so get the coffee on and get ready for Wild Hockey action. LET’S GO WILD!!