The Minnesota Wild face the Anaheim Ducks tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota is in first place in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference standings. Anaheim leads the Pacific division and is second in the Western Conference trailing only the Chicago Blackhawks. Tonight is the second in a three game home stand for the Wild. This will be a big test for the Wild who are 9-2-1 on home ice, the Ducks are 11-1-0 at home but 7-2-3 on the road where they have struggled recently losing four straight. Minnesota has been hot at the “X” as of late going 5-0-1 in their last six games. In their last 3 home contests Minnesota has outshot opponents by a substantial 105-69 margin. When is the last time you saw that stat from the typically low shot total Wild. That is a trend they will have to keep up if they hope to beat a ducks team that average 27.7 shots a game. That compares with Minnesota’s 27.7 shots on average. The Wild allow 27.4 shots per game versus 28.3 for the Ducks. The Wild are going to have to make their shots count against Ducks goalies Jonas Hiller and rookie Viktor Fasth. Between the two net minders they’ve allowed an average of 2.46 goals per game. In two meeting this season the Wild have lost to each, to Fasth on February 1st by a 3-1 final and to Hiller on March 1st 3-2. In those two games the Wild had goaltenders Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kumper in net.
Minnesota’s offense has been producing lately, scoring 15 goals over their last 5 games. There are a couple of point streaks on the line heading into tonights contest. Defenseman Ryan Suter is riding a 7 game point streak with 1 goal and 8 assists in that span, that is the second longest streak of his career. He had two assists against the Canucks, the 4th time in his career he has done that. His 17 helpers are the most on the team. Captain Mikko Koivu had an assist lat time out, to stretch his point streak to four games (1 g, 5 a), his longest of the season. He leads the Wild with 20 points (4 g, 16 a) this year. Zach Parise is hot right now after scoring 2 goals and 1 assist against Vancouver, the 25th 3 point game of his career. He leads the Wild with 11 goals and 19 points on the season. The 98-million dollar men, Parise and Suter rank 2nd and 3rd in points behind team captain Koivu. That kind of point production and team leadership shows the investment made by Craig Leipold is paying off already. The established veterans and a great crop of rookies along with younger players are starting to really gel and become a cohesive team unit. The play of Jonas Brodin and Charlies Coyle show the Wild are not lacking in the young talent department. Brodin is garnering Calder trophy talk and Coyle is the Minnesota power forward of the future. All of these reasons and more are why the Wild have moved up to 8th in the NHL power rankings.
Heading into tonight’s action Niklas Backstrom will get the start in goal. He is coming off back to back wins against Nashville and Vancouver. The Defensive pairings will be the same as two games ago with Nate Prosser scratched. Defensive pairs; Suter-Brodin, Spurgeon-Stoner, Falk-Gilbert. Offensively the Wild will look a bit different as Mikael Granlund has been sent back to the Houston Aeros. He’s been scratched 4 of the past 8 games and has totaled just 1 goal and 4 assists in 19 games. The lines tonight should be, Koivu-Parise-Coyle, Jason Zucker-Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck, Torrey Mitchell-Zenon Konopka-Mike Rupp.
This is one of the biggest games so far this season for Minnesota. They are healthy and playing with a chip on their shoulder as of late. I think they’ll come out hard and fast again tonight, much as they did against the Canucks two nights ago. The Wild are at home with a sell out crowd expected, it should be loud at the “X” tonight. A fast start, winning the faceoff battle, and minimizing time in the penalty box are all musts. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with analysis and a full recap. Until then LET’S GO WILD!!!