The Minnesota Wild face the Calgary Flames in the second half of a home-and-home series tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. The Flames took the first game 3-1 on Saturday, and the Wild are looking for payback tonight. With the loss, Minnesota’s record falls to 8-7-2. Their total of 18 points finds them tied for 11th in the Western Conference, and out of the playoff picture. There is a log jam of teams with only five points separating 13th through 4th place in the Conference standings. In the Northwest Division, Minnesota sits in second place, tied with Edmonton, and six points out of first in the division, and third in the conference standings. In short, the Minnesota Wild need a winning streak and they need it now. Continuing their .500 pace will earn them early golf tee times come the end of April, and their fifth consecutive season out of the playoffs.
The Wild have yet to win three straight games this season. Tonight is as good a time as any to start a winning and/or point streak. The Flames sit one point back of the Wild in the Northwest Division with a 7-7-3 record. The teams have split the first two games of five on the schedule this season. The latest, this last Saturday, saw the Flames take a 3-1 victory. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo characterized the loss saying it was, “A team effort tonight in the wrong direction.” Since the loss, the Wild returned to St. Paul for two days of practice before the rematch at 7pm tonight.
One area that is seeing a change in personnel, is the power play. Currently, Minnesota’s power play is producing at a weak 13.8 %, and ranks 27th in the NHL. Head Coach Yeo is moving players around, hoping to spark some scoring on the man advantage. Rookie Mikael Granlund is moving to the #1 power play unit, joining Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. Granlund would replace Dany Heatley, who is moving to unit #2, joining Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen. Jason Zucker, the rookie speedster has also been mentioned as a possible skater on the second power play unit. Yeo is changing up power play personnel, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Wild need more power plays. They have generated just 58 chances over 17 games this season. They have scored eight power play goals so far, four on the road and four at home. Compare that to the league leaders–Montreal in the East with 90 opportunities in 19 games, and Detroit in the West with 85 chances with the man advantage over the course of 19 games. The bottom line is that the Wild need to generate more chances on the power play. They have to keep their feet moving, keep the play moving north and south on the ice to force opponents into holding, hooking, and interfering violations. When teams just have to block shots, step into passing lanes and are not chasing Minnesota players around the ice, they are not taking penalties. The Wild have to keep the play moving, and force opponents into taking penalties, to get some more power play chances.
Injury-wise, the Wild continue to be fortunate so far this season. Winger Cal Clutterbuck has been place on injured reserve as he continues to recover from a thigh contusion suffered against Edmonton last Thursday. Darcy Kuemper continues to back up Niklas Backstrom as Josh Harding‘s doctors work on his medications for MS. Overall, the Wild have done quite well avoiding the injuries that have plagued other clubs. Healthy scratches for tonight look to be Nate Prosser and Zenon Konopka.
The Forward lines–barring any last minute changes–should be:
Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker, Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi
Defensive pairings for tonight are:
Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin
Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner
Hopefully, the lineup shake ups will produce some results tonight. With this being the second game in a row against Calgary, it is a chance to pick up two valuable points against a divisional foe behind us in the standings. After tonight, Minnesota heads out on the road for a pair against Phoenix and Anaheim–two teams ahead of Minnesota in the conference standings. Puck drop is slated for 7pm at the Xcel Energy Center, and a sell out crowd is expected. Time to get two points in regulation so, LET’S GO WILD!!