The Minnesota Wild look to keep their win streak rolling tonight against the Dallas Stars. The Wild have won five straight overall, and four straight on the road. A win tonight would give the Wild six straight regulation wins for the first time in team history. Minnesota faces the captainless Stars at American Airlines Arena. In the first big-name transaction as the NHL trade deadline approaches, the Stars traded Captain Brenden Morrow to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Penguins defensive prospect Joseph Morrow (no relation) and a 2013 fifth-round pick. Pittsburgh also received a 2013 third-round pick in the deal.
The Wild also made a couple of changes to their line up, sending Jason Zucker and Matt Hackett down to the Houston Aeros and calling up Jake Dowell and Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper is 1-2-0 with a 2.22 goals against average and a .924 save percentage in four games with the Wild this season. Dowell was signed by the Wild as a free agent this past summer. He’s a native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin with 154 games of NHL experience skating for the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars, amassing 33 points (11 g, 22 a) and 133 PIM. Zucker’s ice time had been declining since Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned to the lineup and played well, keeping Zucker on the bench. Zucker needs and deserves more ice time, something he will get in Houston. Jake Dowell is more of a grinder type of player; he will fit in well on the 4th line with Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka. Look for Dowell to play tonight if Mike Rupp is unable to go. Rupper is still suffering from a lower body injury that has kept him out for the last few games.
Heading into tonight’s action, the Wild are second in the Northwest Division, and sit in fourth in the Western Conference with 38 points. The Vancouver Canucks lead the division with 40 points, but they have also played two more games than Minnesota. The Wild can retake the divisional lead, and third place in the conference, with a win tonight. Dallas trails the Pacific-leading Ducks by 15 points, and are caught up in the morass that is the middle of the Western Conference standings. Currently, the fourth place Wild are separated by five points from eighth place Dallas, and six points ahead of 11th place Columbus.
Minnesota has needed every point they have accumulated during the current winning streak. The Wild rank second in the NHL in goals against average (GAA) at 2.10, and third in save percentage (SV%) at .927 since February 9th. Overall, Minnesota ranks fourth in the NHL in GAA at 2.33 and SV% at .918 on the season. The Wild have accumulated 20 goals to their opponents’ 10 during the current five game winning streak.
The Wild have several players who are hot right now, including Ryan Suter, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Suter–the Wild’s high scoring defenseman–has two goals and 13 assists in has last 13 games. He is the second highest scoring D-man in the NHL with 26 points. Even more amazing is the fact that Suter is number two in assists by a defenseman and is 7th for all players in the NHL with 24 helpers on the season. Setoguchi, after a slow start, has accumulated six goals and two assists over the last six games, upping his season totals to 11 goals and 9 assists for 20 points on the year. Setoguchi’s line mates, Cullen and Bouchard, have upped their output to a total of seven goals and 25 assists this season.
The number one line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle strikes fear into the hearts of opposing defensemen with the ability to score on any given shift whether it is even strength, a power play or on the penalty kill. The Minnesota PK is ranked third in the NHL at 86.2% and should fare well against Dallas’ 20th place power play that produces at a paltry 16.8%. Tonigh,t as they have done in all the games during this win streak, the Wild need to stay out of the penalty box and make Dallas pay for any errors on the penalty kill.
Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom, named the number two star of the week by the NHL, will be in net again tonight. He is 16-7-2 so far this season, with a .921 SV% and 2.33 GAA. His 16 victories tie him for second in the league, while his save percentage and goals against rank in the top 20. His opponent will be Kari Lehtonen, who has allowed just two goals in winning his past two starts. His save percentage of .923 ranks fifth best in the League.
The Wild are looking to end another team’s home ice dominance against them tonight. Dallas has a 16-game winning streak against the Wild at American Airlines Center, tied for the current longest streak any team has against them. The Stars have not lost at home to the Wild since March 21, 2003, a string of 16 straight victories. The last loss for Dallas was an overtime win for the boys from St. Paul. We haven’t taken a regulation game from the Stars since March 8, 2002. That was then, and this is now a much stronger, and more skilled Wild squad. Minnesota needs to continue their string of hot starts and trend of scoring the first goal. This is the first of two games this week against the Stars at American Airlines Center. The second is this Friday, March 29th. This is a great opportunity fo the Wild to retake the lead in the Northwest Division, and put some distance between themselves and the bottom half of the Western Conference. A regulation win tonight would be the sixth straight for the Wild, a first in the team’s history. A victory would also be the fifth in a row on the road, a feat only accomplished once before, back in December of the 2011-12 season.
Everything points to the forward lines being the same as last game. One does not mess with success, and those successful lines are:
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Devin Setoguchi-Matt Cullen-Pierre Marc Bouchard
Dany Heatley-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck
Mike Rupp-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
If Mike Rupp is not able to play tonight, insert Jake Dowell on the fourth line. The defensive pairings for tonight will be:
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Jared Spurgeon-Clayton Stoner
Tom Gilbert-Justin Falk
Defenseman Nate Prosser looks to be a healthy scratch one again, as does Brett Clark, who has yet to make his debut in a Wild sweater.
This should be an entertaining matchup for the fans. It’s always satisfying to beat the team that abandoned Minnesota back in the 90’s and made a villain of Norm Green. Remember the chant’s of “Norm Green Sucks” when the Stars came to town early in the Wild’s existance? Gone Puck Wild will be back after tonight’s action with a recap and analysis. Puck drop is 7:30 pm Minnesota time (CST). Don’t bother sitting back in your seat, you’ll only need the edge as the Wild battle the stars. Until then, this is Scott Drain chanting, “LET’S GO WILD!!