Tonight, the Minnesota Wild head into the lion’s den to face the mighty Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago is riding high on a 22 game point streak. They are 19-0-3 on the season, with shootout losses to the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks. The Wild were the team who ended the Blackhawks six game win streak to start the season, winning 3-2 in a shootout on January 30th. Chicago has won 12 games in regulation, four games in overtime and three games in shootouts. They have lost three games in shootouts. The Blackhawks are also winning the close games–five of their 12 regulation wins have come by a single goal. When you add the OT wins, that total climbs to nine of 15.
Looking at your Wild squad, they’ve won four of seven by one goal in regulation, two of three in OT, and two of three in the shootout. The Wild have beaten opponents by 2+ goals just three times this season. They have an average of 2.24 goals per game, while Chicago is scoring an average of 3.04. Minnesota allows 2.38 a game to the Blackhawks’ 1.73. Every goal the Wild can score tonight will be precious.
The Wild match up well defensively, with Chicago. The pairs of Ryan Suter with Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon with Clayton Stoner, will be playing some big minutes tonight. The third pair of Justin Falk and Tom Gilbert will need to be at the top of their game as well. I’d expect to see Nate Prosser scratched again tonight. Suter and Brodin will have their hands full with the explosive offensive capabilities of Patrick Kane (11 g, 15 a), Jonathan Toews (9 g, 9 a), Patrick Sharp (5 g, 12 a) and Viktor Stalberg (6 g, 5 a). Chicago also has defensemen who are piling up points as well, with seven goals and 40 assists total. They are led by Duncan Keith who has 11 assists and 12 points, Brent Seabrook‘s 9 points, and Nick Leddy‘s 8 points.
Ahh yes, Nick Leddy, every time I hear his name I think of the WORST trade in Wild history–a trade that sent Leddy and Kim Johnsson to Chicago in return for Cam Barker in February of 2010. After a season and a half of mediocre-at-best play in Minnesota, he was placed on waivers in June of 2011, with the intention of buying out his contract. Meanwhile ,Leddy is becoming one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. Enough about that debacle. The Wild’s defensemen have totaled six goals and 27 assists this season. They are led by Ryan Suter‘s 14 assists and Tom Gilbert’s three goals and five assists.
The offensive lines for tonight should look the same as last game’s lineup against Edmonton. The big line of Mikko Koivu (4 g, 13 a), Zach Parise (8 g, 7 a) and Charlie Coyle (2 g, 1 a) is as good as any top line in the league. They also play well on both side of the puck, taking their defensive assignments seriously. Lines 2a and 2b should remain unchanged, with rookie speedster Jason Zucker (3 g, 0 a) teamed with Matt Cullen (3 g, 9 a) and Devin Setoguchi (4 g, 7 a). Sniper Dany Heatley (8 g, 4 a) is skating with rookie Mikael Granlund (1 g, 5 a) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2 g, 3 a). The energy/checking line of Torrey Mitchell (1 g, 1 a), Kyle Brodziak (2 g, 2 a), and Mike Rupp (1 g, 1 a) will need to bang some bodies tonight to soften up the Blackhawks and get some turnovers. Niklas Backstrom will get the start in net tonight, hoping to play like he did in his last outing against Chicago. He came on in relief of Josh Harding just over six minutes into the game and stopped the bleeding, allowing no goals and winning the shootout to hand the ‘Hawks their first SO loss of the year. He faced 28 shots in 58:15 of work that night.
One thing our Wild team cannot afford is a slow start. If they don’t hit the ice flying, Chicago will quickly put the game out of reach. Minnesota has to stay out of the penalty box as well. The Wild have taken the fewest minor penalties in the league (71) to date, while Chicago ranks 16th with 90. The Wild have taken 11 majors to Chicago’s 12. The Wild kill penalties at an 82.6 % clip, contrasted with the Blackhawks 89.7. The Wild will have to make the most of any power plays they can get. Chicago scores on the power play 17.9 % of the time, compared to 14.5 % for the Wild. Minnesota has a tall order in front of them this evening, but they have shown they are up to that task, having already beaten the Blackhawks this season. The Wild will have to be aggressive with the puck, crashing the net and converting chances into goals. There are no moral victories in tonight’s game–just a win or a loss. Getting the first goal will be very important, along with solid defense. This game will come down to a couple of mistakes on either side. The side that capitalizes best on those errors will take the “W” tonight.
Puck drop is slated for 7:30 Minnesota time (CST). The Blackhawks will be honoring Marian Hossa for playing his 1,000th game in the NHL. This will be a real battle tonight, and a good measuring stick to see where the Wild stand among the elite teams in the Western Conference. GonePuckWild.com will be back with a full recap of tonight’s action. Until then, LET’S GO WILD!