The Minnesota Wild face the Vancouver Canucks tonight in the second half of a back-to-back. The Wild are coming off a shootout win against the Calgary Flames, while the Canucks have been idle and resting since their 5-1 win against Calgary on Saturday.
The news of the day, however, is goaltender Darcy Kuemper being recalled from the Houston Aeros. That, coupled with Marco Scandella being sent down, is raising questions about the health of backup goalie Josh Harding, who was with the team last night in Calgary. Harding was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) back in September. He earned his spot on the team, and posted a shutout in his first start of the year. Most recently, he was pulled 6 minutes into the January 30th game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and has not seen starter status since. General Manager Chuck Fletcher says Harding reported feeling “off” the last few days. He added that he appreciated Harding’s honesty with his situation, and that the team supports him completely.
The 22-year old Darcy Kuemper brings a 10-6-0 record with a 1.79 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and four shutouts in 16 games for the Houston Aeros this season. He is a big goaltender, measuring 6-foot-5 and weighing 207-pounds. This season, he ranks second in the AHL in GAA and SV%. Look for a full article on Darcy Kuemper later today on GonePuckWild.com. Wild General Manager Fletcher also says, if Jared Spurgeon it ready to go tonight, another separate roster move will have to be made.
The Wild are looking to avenge a 4-1 loss to the Canucks last Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center. Vancouver leads the Northwest Division with 16 points on a 7-2-2 record. The Wild sit in second place in the division with a 6-5-1 record and 13 points. With a quarter of this shortened season in the books, the Wild are tied with four other teams for the eighth and final playoff spot. Vancouver, by virtue of leading the division, holds the third seed.
Tonight, one thing is for sure–the Wild need to score more than one goal. The last five games, they have totaled five goals in regulation, going 2-3 in that span. That group of games included a butt-kicking by the Canucks, a game in which the Wild were outplayed in every facet. A slow start tonight will doom the Wild early. The same mantra of get pucks and bodies to the front of the net, capitalize on chances, stay out of the penalty box, and be responsible defensively, applies more than ever tonight. Minnesota has a chance to close to within a point of the top of the Northwest Division with a win.
I’d expect the defensive pairings to be juggled only if Jared Spurgeon returns to the line up tonight. He has missed the last 9 games rehabbing a severely bruised foot, an injury suffered while blocking a shot early this season. The top pair of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will not change as they have been Minnesota’s most consistent defensemen. Against Calgary, Suter set up the first goal by causing a turnover, while Brodin had no giveaways and made smart passes all night.
The only possible substitution would be Torrey Mitchell returning to th fourth line to provide some fresh legs.
This will be a real challenge for the Wild tonight. Roberto Luongo returns to the net, and he is very tough at home. Kuemper will have to shake off the nerves of his first NHL game quickly, but I’d expect the boys to be fired up to support him and give him the room, and protection, he needs to operate. There’s no love lost between Minnesota and Vancouver, so this evening should be a real battle. This will be an exciting game to watch, starting at 9 pm Minnesota time. So put on the coffee and get ready for round two of five this season in the Wild vs Canucks rivalry. GonePuckWild.com will be back with a full recap after the game. LET’S GO WILD!!