The Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars face each other tonight for the second time this week, as the Wild look to extend their 7-game win streak. Monday night Minnesota beat the Stars 7-4 for their first win at American Airlines Center in a span of 16 games over 10 seasons. The 7 goals scored by the Wild were the most they have scored this season or any in game since they put 8 in the net April 10, 2009 against the Nashville Predators during a 8-4 win. Minnesota is the hottest team in the Western Conference with their 7 straight wins and a 9-1-0 record over their last 10 games. Minnesota is winning games in a variety of ways. Monday the Wild scored 5 even strength goals, 1 short-handed and 1 empty netter. In short they just overpowered their opponent. Wednesday they had to rely on their Captain, Mikko Koivu and defensive wizard, Ryan Suter in a come from behind effort. Last Saturday they could only muster 2 goals and had to rely on goalie Niklas Backstrom for the victory.
Monday, Dallas net minder Kari Lehtonenwas in goal for 6 of the 7 goals, taking the loss. His record now stands at 12-8-2 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average. Niklas Backstrom was the winner, raising his season record to 18-7-2 with a .917 save % and a goals against average of 2.32. In tonight’s rematch Lehtonen will be back for Dallas but Backstrom is back home in Minnesota getting some much needed rest. The Wild’s workhorse has started 16 of the past 17 games including all
7 during the current win streak. Yesterday Minnesota recalled Matt Hackett from the Houston Aeros for the second time this season. The 23-year-old has not appeared in a NHL game this season. Tonight appears to be his night in net for the Wild. Hey kid, no pressure here, just a 7 game win streak, first place in the division and third in the conference on the line. He’s 19-20-3 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .907 save percentage in 43 games for Houston this season. Solid numbers for sure. Let’s hope they transfer well to the NHL level tonight. The Wild’s other goal tender this evening is Darcy Kuemper who has posted a 1-2-0 record, a .924 save % and a 2.22 goals against average in 3 NHL contests this season. The key to a victory for Minnesota tonight is going to be goal support. Minnesota did give up 4 goals Monday in the win in Dallas and 3 goals Wednesday on home ice. Couple that with a young netminder and the Wild will need every goal they can get. Goal scoring has not been too much of a problem during the winning streak with 31 goals for and just 17 against. That works out to an average of 4.43 goals scored versus 2.43 against during each game of “the streak”.
Currently the Wild have once again been overtaken by the Vancouver Canucks for the lead in the Northwest division. The Canucks have a record of 19-9-6 good for 44 points to Minnesota’s 42 points on a record of 20-10-2. These are the teams that will battle for the Northwest division title with Edmonton (33 pts.), Calgary (30 pts.) and Colorado (26 pts.) already falling by the wayside. Tonight’s opponent holds the 10th spot in the Western Confernce with 33 points trailing St. Louis (36 pts.) for the 8th and final playoff position. The conference is tight with 3rd through 9th positions just 8 points apart.
The forward lines for the Wild will look the same as the last few games. Head Coach Mike Yeo is not going to fix what isn’t broken. Those lines will be:
Koivu (9 g, 21 a) and Parise (14 g, 14 a)are 1st and 2nd in points on the Wild. When you add in Coyle’s (3 g, 3 a) points you have a line totaling 64 points in 32 games. The second line of Cullen (6 g, 17 a), Setoguchi (11 g, 10 a) and Bouchard (4 g, 10 a) is not far behind with a total of 58 points on the year. The third line has accumulated 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points. Even the energy line has 9 points.
The Dallas Stars are led in scoring by Jaromir Jagr (14 g, 11 a) 25 points, Loui Eriksson (9 g, 14 a) 23 points and Jamie Benn (6 g, 16 a) 22 points. Jagr is on a five game point streak and needs just 1 more assist to reach 1000 for his amazing career. I’d love to see hime reach the milestone, just not against the Wild. The stars have score 18 goals in their last five games and are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.
Defensively the Wild have the best pairing in the league in Ryan Suter and Joans Brodin. The veteran Suter is the second leading scorer among defensemen in the NHL with 27 points. He also ranks second in assists among defensemen, and 14th among all players with 24. Suter leads all players in the NHL with an average of 27 minutes, 16 seconds of ice time per game. His rookie partner Jonas Brodin has 2 goals and 5 assists so far this season. He ranks 49th among all players averaging 22 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time per game including significant power play and penalty kill minutes. The second and third pairs should be the same tonight as well with Jared Spurgeon skating with Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk with Tom Gilbert. If Coach Yeo makes any changes it will be to the pair of Falk and Gilbert who have been the weakest of the three. They have struggled at times giving up turnovers and odd man rushes at inopportune moments.
The Wild are playing confidently during the streak, believing they can win any game on any night. They are getting timely goals, and key saves over and over during this win streak. The defense bends but doesn’t break and contributes to the offense as well. Minnesota needs to get off to a quick start, establish an aggressive forecheck and limit penalties to beat the Stars for the second time this week. Puck drop os slated for 7:30 Minnesota time (CST) and if you plan on watching the action the game is on FSN Plus. To find out what channel that is in your area click here. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with a recap and analysis of the action. Until then this is Scott Drain confidently saying, “LET’S GO WILD!!”