It’s rivalry night at the Xcel Energy Center, as the Vancouver Canucks come to town to take on your Minnesota Wild. Minnesota (4-4-1) currently sits in third place in the Northwest Division with 9 points, 3 points behind division leading Vancouver (5-2-2). Tonight’s matchup with the Canucks starts an important stretch of games, mainly against divisional opponents. Hopefully, the intensity level gets ratcheted up a few notches, as familiarity breeds contempt, with divisional foes facing the Wild seven times through the end of the month.
The Wild are shuffling up the lines and adding new faces as they try to climb above the .5oo mark. Distancing themselves from other teams in the division earlier, rather than later, in the season is important. While the look of all four Minnesota lines has changed in practice the last couple of days, Head Coach Mike Yeo says that it may or may not be what jumps over the boards tonight. Two things are for sure though–Mike Rupp will be in the lineup, and Charlie Coyle will be on the top line.
Rupp, a 6’5″ 243lb forward, will be skating on the “energy” line, forechecking hard against the Canucks. He was acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for journeyman grinder Darroll Powe and the attitude-challenged Nick Palmieri. “Rupper”, as he is known, brings a large and physical presence to a team needing more size and grit in the offensive line up. Look for him to be skating on a line with tough guy Zenon Konopka. I’d expect some gloves to be dropped by these two against the Canucks.
The second thing to watch will be rookie Charle Coyle moving to the top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Coyle looked good in his first game, skating on a line with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Taking his place on that line will probably be Dany Heatley. Heatley has been offensively challenged the last few games, registering just 5 shots on goal over the last four contests. Playing with a couple of assist wizards like Bouchard and Cullen, “Heater” will hopefully get his scoring touch going again.
In short, the Wild need to shoot more. Currently, they rank 28th in the league in shots, averaging just over 26 per game. They rank near the bottom in scoring, as well, with an average of below 2.5 goals per game. Niklas Backstrom will be in goal tonight. Lifetime, he is 11-12-6, with a 2.63 GAA, a .908 SV% and one shutout vs the Canucks. The Canucks come to town fresh off a 3-2 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers. Vancouver rookie Chris Tanev scored his first NHL goal with 20 seconds left in OT for the game winner. Tonight is the first of four games between the Wild and Vancouver this season. The Wild posted a 2-3-1 record versus the Canucks in 2011-12. The Canucks are on a three-game winning streak with goalie Roberto Luongo. He won’t be in net tonight, though. Luongo hasn’t played in St. Paul since October, 2010 when he was pulled from a game for the third straight time in Minnesota. Cory Schneider will be in net for his fifth start of the year. Puck drop is 7pm in St. Paul with a sell out crowd expected. A bonus for the fans tonight, all fans will receive a Vintage Wild Bobblehead.
As with all games against the Canucks, look for an intense game with plenty of extra curricular activity. These teams don’t like each other, and that should make for an entertaining matchup for the fans. The Wild will need to shoot, shoot and shoot the puck to get an early lead. Defensively, Minnesota has done well against Vancouver; it’s the offense department that has been lacking. GonePuckWild.com will have a full post game report after tonight’s battle. LET’S GO WILD!!