The Minnesota Wild are in San Jose to take on the Sharks in the Shark tank in a Wednesday night battle of Western Conference top six teams. The Wild come in with a record of 21-12-2 overall 8-8-1 on the road. The Sharks are 18-11-6 with an amazing home record of 12-1-4. Currently the Wild are in third in the Western Conference and lead the Northwest Division. The Sharks are 3rd in the Pacific Division and 6th in the conference standings. Just 3 points separate 3rd from 6th in the ultra tight Western Conference. The Wild are coming off a disappointing performance at home on Monday night against the St. Louis Blues. They are still one of the hottest teams in the NHL going 8-2 in their last 10 games. The Sharks are surging right now going 7-3 in their last 10 and riding a 5 game win streak coming into tonight’s match up. The Wild should be rested entering the game as they held an optional practice Tuesday that saw just six players on the ice. Only three of those are probable to lace up the skates for tonight’s action, Zenon Konopka,Clayton Stoner and Matt Hackett. Two of the remaining three are probable scratches in Defensemen Justin Falk and Nate Prosser. That leaves Josh Harding who has been on IR while doctors adjust his medications in his battle with MS. It is great to see Josh back on the ice and taking shots in practice. Hopefully it won’t be long before he is back on the bench in game situations. The rest of the Wild players had the day off and should be in good shape to face a tough sharks lineup. More on the changing San Jose line up in a bit.
The Wild will be with out the services of Matt Cullen for at least the next two games due to a lower body injury suffered Monday night. He is thought to be possible for the Columbus Blue jackets game on Sunday. In the mean time the call has been made to Houston and Johan Larsson will be meeting the team in San Jose. This will be Larsson’s second with Minnesota this season, in his NHL debut back in February he had a pair of shots on goal in just over 14 minutes of ice time. With the Aeros this year he has racked up 37 points with 15 goals and 22 assists in 62 games. He currently ranks 3rd on the Houston roster in points behind Jason Zucker (43 pts) and Justin Fontaine (46 pts). He should fit in well on the Wild’s 2nd line with Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. The rest of the forward lines should be unchanged from Monday’s “effort”. Those lines being:
The defensive pairing for tonight’s match up appear to be unchanged from the last game. The top pair of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin are a minute munching monsters with Suter leading the NHL in ice time, averaging 27:16 a game. Brodin ranks 50th overall and leads all rookies averaging 22:40 a night! This really the #1 defensive pair the Wild have needed in years past. The second pair of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner have had some rough patches the last few games but overall are solid with a nice combination of size and offensive contributions. The pair are also a +10 combined on the season. The third pair of Gilbert and Clark have just had a few games to get comfortable with each other, but look very calm and poised together with a combined 1119 games of NHL experience between them. The Wild are currently carrying 8 defensemen so that leaves Nate Prosser and Justin Falk as the healthy scratches.
The Sharks will have a somewhat different look to them as Ryane Clowe was traded to The New York Rangers on Tuesday for three draft picks. San Jose had already traded D-man Douglas Murray and Center Michal Handzus in earlier transactions. The Sharks are also loaded with former Wild players with defenseman Brent Burns along with forwards Martin Havlat and James Sheppard all on the roster. San Jose also has rookie Matt Tennyson who turned pro and joined the team after his college career with Western Michigan University ended. He debuted on Monday picking up an assist in his first NHL game. Just this morning The Sharks traded a 6/7th round conditional pick to the Nashville Predators for Scott Hannan is what is being termed a depth move.
Tonight’s game features two of the best face off teams in the league with the Sharks ranked 2nd at 53.2% and the Wild tied for 3rd at 52.6%. Puck control is going to be critical if the Wild are to knock off San Jose on home ice where they have been beaten just once in regulation this season. Another slow start for the Wild will be fatal to their hopes tonight. They have to get their feet moving early and get some shots on Antti Niemi. The Sharks goalie has won four straight starts with a .98 goals against average in that span. Niklas Backstrom will start for the Wild and will need support form his defensemen and a strong forecheck from the forward lines to keep the play in the San Jose end. Backstrom is currently leading the NHL in wins with 19.He is 19-8-2 on the year with a 2.40 goals against average and a .914 save %. The Wild have several hot players right now including Koivu, Parise, Suter and Devin Setoguchi. Minnesota will need some goals from that group to win tonight. Minnesota needs a win to stay with or move ahead of the Canucks for the lead in the Northwest Division. GonePuckWild will be back after the game with a full recap and analysis. Puck drop is at 9 pm Minnesota time (CST) so put the coffee on and get ready for Wild hockey. Until then this is Scott Drain saying “LET’S GO WILD!”