The Minnesota Wild are in Nashville to face the Predators Saturday night in the final meeting between the teams this season. This is a homecoming of sorts for Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. He spent the first 7 years of his career in Nashville where he was a fan favorite. He returns to Nashville for the first time since signing with the Wild. Suter says he doesn’t expect a warm welcome from the Nashville fans tonight as he returns to Bridgestone Arena. Suter leads the Wild squad in time on ice at 27:07 per game, power-play time, and shorthanded time. He is tied with captain Mikko Koivu for the team lead in assists 14. The Wild are in 11 place in the Western Conference with 24 points and an 11-9-2 record. They face a Nashville team in 10th place with a 10-9-5 record and 25 points. The Western Conference is still a logjam, with the span from 3rd to 11th place just 4 points. Tonight Minnesota has an opportunity to leap frog Nashville in the standings. The Wild will need to limit the Predators’ scoring chances and power plays while maximizing their own.
The Wild are welcoming a familiar face back to the line up, Cal Clutterbuck is scheduled to return to action. He suffered a thigh contusion after an illegal, knee first hit by Taylor Hall back on February 21st missing action since. Minnesota is also seeing a switch in backup goaltenders as well. Matt Hackett has been recalled from Houston to replace Darcy Kuemper who has been place on IR with a groin injury. Hackett is 19-19-3 with a 2.56 GAA and a .910 save percentage in 42 games with The Aeros this season. Net minder Niklas Backstrom will get the start tonight. He is 9-6-2 with a .911 save percentage and a 2.41 GAA.
The Wild are up against a Nashville team that is 3-6-1 over their last 10 games. They have had trouble scoring goals as of late, losing 5 out of the last 6 games. They did beat the Oilers last night 6-0 ending a 3 game losing streak. Nashville has not been getting a lot of scoring from their forward lines and are averaging just 2.12 goals per game. The Predators are led by Colin Wilson’s 19 points (7 g, 12 a) and Martin Erat’s 13 points (3 g, 10 a). The Wild are led by Mikko Koivu’s 18 points (4 g, 14 a), Ryan Suter’s 15 points (1 g, 14 a), Zach Parise’s 15 points (8 g, 7 a), Matt Cullen’s 13 points (3 g, 10 a) as well as Dany Heatley with 13 points (8 g, 5 a). The Wild have no shortage off offensive firepower it’s just a matter of which players will show up on any given night. The Wild have been looking better as of late with a record of 5-4-1 over the last 10 games while moving up in the scoring ranks to 25th in the league with 2.27 goals per game.
Tonight Minnesota is going to have to stay out of the penalty box and maximize their chances on the power play. Nashville ranks near the bottom of the league with the 27th ranked penalty kill of 77.2 %. The Wild kill penalties at a 5th ranked 86.8 % rate. A quick start is what the Wild need as well. They play much better when they score first and play with a lead. Defensively Minnesota is healthy and the pairing for tonight should mirror last game against Chicago. The return of Clutterbuck changes the forward lines a bit. Tonight we should see a top line of Parise, Koivu, and Charlie Coyle. The next lines, which I call 2a and 2b should be Healtley, Kyle Brodziak, and Clutterbuck along with the line of Jason Zucker, Matt Cullen, and Devin Setoguchi. Tonight’s energy/chicking line will be the bruisers, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, and Mike Rupp. Minnesota has a chance to jump in the tight Western Conference standings. To do it they will have to stick to their system and remain disciplined. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with analysis and a recap of the action until then LET’S GO WILD!!