Fresh off a shootout victory in Nashville the Minnesota Wild take on the Northwest Division Leading Vancouver Canucks. It’s the second of back to back games for the Wild. Tonight’s battle is for 1st place in the division and third place in the Western Conference standings. With the win last night Minnesota is in 9th place with 26 points and a 12-9-2 record. The Canucks come in with an 11-6-6 record good for 28 points and third place in the conference. This has all the makings of a great game between two divisional rivals. The Canucks are in a bit of a slide as of late posting a record of 3-3-4 over their last 10 games, the Wild have gone 6-3-1 in the same span. Tonight marks the halfway point in this shortened season for the Minnesota squad. This is the third time that the Wild and Canucks have played with Vancouver taking both games in the season series. Minnesota was beaten by Vancouver, 4-1, at the Xcel Energy Center on February. 7 and 2-1 in Vancouver on February 12.
The Wild returned late last night from Nashville and are not planning on having a morning skate. I would not be surprised to see Matt Hackett get the start in goal tonight. The Canucks will counter with Corey Schneider. The Canucks have not played since Thursday and have been in St. Paul for more than a day now. They practiced at the Xcel Energy Center yesterday and were slated to skate this morning. The Wild come into tonight’s game rather healthy as a team. Only goal tenders Darcy Kuemper and Josh Harding are on IR. The Canucks are missing some key players, especially defenseman Kevin Bieska is out with a groin injury and is not expected to play tonight. Add to that list Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, and defenseman Keith Ballard is questionable for tonight. The Wild have an opportunity to take advantage of a dinged up Canucks squad.
The Wild are going to have to shake off the travel weariness and get another quick start. Scoring the first goal and making Vancouver play from behind is key. Against Nashville the Wild played a very disciplined game taking only 3 penalties and giving the Predators only 2 power plays. Minnesota will need a similar effort against the Canucks who are struggling on the power play. The Vancouver unit has not scored with the man advantage in the last 7 games. The Wild are going to need to capitalize on their power play chances if they are to take the divisional lead.
I’d expect the defensive pairing to remain the same as last night with Nate Prosser being the healthy scratch. As for the forward lines the return of Cal Clutterbuck has necessitated some shuffling of players. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikael Granlund were scratched last game and I don’t see them watching too many games from the press box. Coach Yeo will keep the top line intact and make any changes to lines 2-4. It will be much closer to game time before we learn the exact lineup. I don’t see many changes however. Tonight is a critical opportunity for the Wild to establish themselves as a playoff team. The logjam in the Western Conference will start to sort itself out over the next few weeks and the Wild need to be in the top half. Tonight they have a streak on the line as Ryan Suter has an assist in each of the last 6 games and Mikko Koivu has 8 points in the last 6 games. Well Wild fans tonight we see if the boys can take over the division lead or fall back into the mess that is the middle of the Western Conference. Puck drop is 7pm at the Xcel Energy Center. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with a full recap and analysis of tonight’s action. Until then LET’S GO WILD!!