The Minnesota Wild face the Columbus Blue Jackets today at Nationwide Arena. This is a must win game for Minnesota, period. The Wild are coming off a pair of losses out in California on this three game road trip. In both of those games Minnesota looked tired played ineffectively at best. Now after a couple of days off and an actual practice session the team should have their legs back and be somewhat refreshed facing Columbus today. The three game losing streak has cost the Wild 1st in the Northwest division, they are 4 points back of Vancouver and they have slid down the Western Conference standings to 7th. With 44 points, Minnesota is only one point out of the 8th and final playoff spot. As if that isn’t bad enough, they are only 4 points out of 9th. I can only hope the Wild right the ship today and we are not seeing another late season slide into playoff purgatory for Minnesota hockey fans.
This is not going to be easy for the Wild. While they have added Jason Pominville to the top line Columbus has added former Wild star Marian Gaborik. Both acquisitions were some of the more surprising deals of trade deadline day. The Jackets sport an impressive home record of 11-4-5 and are 16-15-7 overall. The Wild are 8-10-1 on the road this season. I’ve said it, Coach Yeo has said it, the players have said it; THE TEAM MUST GET OFF TO A GOOD START IN TODAY”S GAME! They can’t afford to play from behind as they have been doing in so many games as of late. Minnesota needs to come out physical and control play right from the start. Put the puck on net, crash the net for rebounds and keep Columbus back on their heels. The Jackets have played well lately going 6-3-1 over their last 10 games. Keeping play away from Niklas Backstrom, who will get the start in net today for the Wild, will go a long way toward two points. The Blue Jackets will have Sergei Bobrovsky in goal tonight and he’s been a wall as of late. That means shoot early and shoot often for the Wild!
The defensive lineup for Minnesota will look a little different as veterans Tom Gilbert and Brett Clark will be scratched in favor of Nate Prosser and Justin Falk. The makes the d-pairs for tonight: Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner, Prosser and Falk. The top pair will have their hands full with Gaborik, who is doing his usual play like crazy for his new team bit. He can be an amazing player when he wants to be or he can be a cherry picking, defensively absent, whiner if he’s not happy with the situation. He needs to be “The Star” on a team or he will sulk and his play will reflect it. In addition to Gaborik, Columbus has talented scorers in Vinny Prospal, Mark Letestu, Derick Brassard and Artem Anisimov. This group has totaled 46 goals this season.
The Wild will be without to of their best forwards tonight in Mark Cullen and Dany Heatley. Both are out of action for the next few games as least. The makes tonight’s forward lines a bit different. The Top line will be Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and the “new guy”, Jason Pominville. This is a line that should be one of the most dangerous in the league and give Columbus Coach Todd Richards fits defensively. This group will be on the ice in all situations including power play and penalty kill time. Next comes the youth line of Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Devin Setoguchi. The third line will have Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. The energy line will consist of Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell. That last line has been uncharacteristically quiet the last few games and I hope they can kick it up a notch or two against the Blue Jackets.
In short for the Wild, slow start=loss, quick start=win. Puck drop is slated for 5pm Minnesota time (CST). The team is rested and focused according to Head Coach Mike Yeo and the slate has been wiped clean. Minnesota is heading into the last 11 games of the season and the playoff push has to begin now. The message now is win, just win. Securing home ice for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will go a long, long way toward a deep playoff run for Minnesota. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with a recap and analysis of all the action. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”