The Minnesota Wild, fresh off a victory last night against Phoenix, face the Anaheim Ducks as they wrap up their road trip this evening. The Ducks are the No. 2 team in the Western Conference with 29 points, seven points ahead of eighth place Minnesota. Los Angeles and St. Louis also have 22 points, but are ahead of the Wild with tie breakers. The Ducks bring a 14-3-1 record into tonight’s matchup with the 10-7-2 Wild.
Last night, Minnesota exploded for four goals in the first two periods against the Coyotes, including scoring the first of the game just 1:35 into the 1st period. The Wild will need another quick start tonight in Anaheim. The Ducks have scored 64 goals this season, averaging 3.33 goals scored while allowing only 2.61 goals against per game. Minnesota’s defense will have to be on their toes against a team that has lost just one game at home all season, while accumulating a 7-1-0 record in the Honda Center, and gone 8-2-0 over their last 10 games.
Last night, the Wild scored four goals while allowing three, one of which was a complete fluke. They were perfect on the penalty kill, going 3 for 3. They scored one power play marker, going 1 for 5 with the man advantage. If Anaheim has a weakness, it is their penalty kill, which is ranked 28th in the league at just 74.6%. If the Wild get some man advantage time, they have to make ‘em pay on the power play. At the same time, Minnesota kills penalties at an 85.7% rate, good for 6th in the NHL. One area where the Ducks and Wild are similar, is shots per game. The Wild average 26.8, while the Ducks are just slightly higher at 27.6, both rank in the bottom third of the league. Faceoff win percentage is another area the Wild hold a substantial edge over the Ducks. The Wild rank 5th at 52.8% vs Anaheim’s 47.4% good for 25th overall. Minnesota is going to have to capitalize on these areas and more, if they hope to defeat the Ducks on their home pond. The Wild can’t afford to play from behind against a confident, division-leading Ducks squad.
The lines for the Wild tonight will look similar to last night, with the exception of the energy or checking line. I’d expect to see Zenon Konopka in the line up to add some grit and physical toughness. The Ducks have a history of trying to intimidate the Wild physically, so having Konopka and Mike Rupp in the line up should help. The top line of Dany Healtley, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle will remain the same as will Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker, and Devin Setoguchi. Those two lines scored 3 of the 4 goals last night, and Head Coach Yeo won’t mess with success there. The line of Mikael Granlund, Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard was held to a single assist last game, but they are some of the best puck movers on the team. I’d expect to see some production out of that group tonight. Defensively, the Wild looked great last night yielding three goals, two of which were strange deflections that I’d classify as bad puck luck. The goal late in the third was scored with a pulled goalie for a man advantage. Minnesota Head Coach Yeo praised the play of his defensemen last night, so I’d expect to see the same pairings against Anaheim.
This is a late starting game for Wild fans, with puck drop slated for 9pm Minnesota time (CST). This could come down to a battle of special teams–thankfully, the Wild have killed 15 of 16 penalties over their last 5 games. The Ducks have the best power play in the NHL at 29%. The Wild can close the gap with division-leading Vancouver, evening the point total at 24 each with a win tonight. Put the coffee on and tune in as the Wild battle the Ducks. Gone Puck Wild will be back after the game with a full game wrap. Until then, LET’S GO WILD!!