The Minnesota Wild head out on the road for a two game swing through Canada, facing the Calgary Flames tonight and the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday. The Wild snapped their three game losing streak on Saturday, beating the Nashville Predators 2-1 in OT. The task now turns to winning their first road game of the year. Minnesota wants to start stringing some wins together in hopes of catching division-leading Vancouver. The Flames sit one spot, and three points below, the Wild in the Northwest Division. Minnesota holds down the second spot, three points behind the Canucks. This is the first of five games between these divisional foes this season.
The Flames feature Wild killer Jarome Iginla, who always seems to be hot against Minnesota. In 67 games, he has scored 35 goals and totaled 64 points, more than any other player against the Wild. Iginla has six points so far this season, scoring just a single goal and adding five helpers. Alex Tanguay leads the Flames with nine points–four goals and five assists. Calgary will be without starting goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who has been placed on injured reserve with a sprained knee. Taking the start will be Leland Irving, who has just two wins in nine NHL starts. Irving gave up five goals to Vancouver in a loss Saturday night. The Wild will counter with Niklas Backstrom (4-4-1), who was brilliant in goal for the Wild against Nashville Saturday, yielding only a single goal.
So far this season, the Wild have avoided the injury bug, with the exception of d-man Jared Spurgeon. He has missed the last eight games with a bruised foot, but is close to returning to the lineup according to Head Coach Mike Yeo. Team defense has been a strong point for the Wild this season. Last game against Nashville, they only allowed 13 shots on goal through the first two periods. Look for the same defensive pairings to take the ice tonight. Nate Prosser returned to the lineup Saturday and had a great game, playing aggressively and keeping the crease clear in front of Backstrom. Defensive pairings will be: Suter-Brodin, Stoner-Gilbert, and Falk-Prosser.
I don’t expect to see any significant changes to the forward lines for the Wild, either. Devin Setoguchi has responded well after his demotion to the fourth line. He has moved back up in the line up each game and potted the OT winner against Nashville. “Seto” is ready to move on after getting the scoring monkey off his back. Pierre-Marc Bouchard skated last game on the fourth line with enforcers Zenon Konopka and Mike Rupp. Woe to any Flame who decides to take liberties with Bouchard with that kind of muscle to back him up. The top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle has been solid, generating plenty of chances. It’s just a matter of time before they turn those into bunches of goals. The Wild are due for an offensive explosion and this could be the night. The second line of Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund and Setoguchi has been flying. Add to that the third line of Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen that scored the first goal on Saturday. Head Coach Yeo is keeping the lines intact to try and develop some chemistry and familiarity between the players.
Calgary has struggled at home this season, posting a 1-3-1 record. That, coupled with the injury to Kiprusoff, could lead to Minnesota scoring more than the single goal they have registered the last four games in regulation. The Flames will need to slow down the Wild’s top line, and generate chances off rebounds, if they expect to solve Niklas Backstrom.
For the Wild, tonight’s goals are simple–score some goals and limit the Flames chances. Nothing fancy there. Sticking to the system, and staying disciplined, will go a long way toward achieving those goals. Puck drop is slated for 8pm Minnesota time on Fox Sports Plus; check your local listing to find the channel. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with a full game wrap up. Let’s GO Wild!!