Sorry for the delay in getting the game day preview up. Scott is sick and I didn’t see his e-mail until essentially just now after getting off work. I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing him a very speedy recovery.
Tonight, the Minnesota Wild play in St. Louis as they conclude their preseason with the second half of a home-and-home with the Blues. In their most recent matchup on Wednesday night, the Wild beat the Blues 3-1 (really 4-1, Nino Niederreiter was robbed of a water bottle-popping power play goal due to no video review in the preseason) off of goals from Matt Cooke, Charlie Coyle and Torrey Mitchell. St. Louis’ lone goal would come from promising young forward Jaden Schwartz, who ripped a blast from the high slot past Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom.
The big story line tonight is the battle for the last few roster spots. Wild head coach Mike Yeo said after Wednesday night’s matchup that he wasn’t “wild” about Jason Zucker’s game, potentially unlocking the No. 2 left wing spot for 2010 9th overall pick Mikael Granlund. Both Zucker and Granlund will be in the lineup tonight, coincidentally on the same line, and fans and coaching staff can expect a strong effort by the two of them and linemate Nino Niederreiter, who has kept himself in the lineup with a strong camp and an impressive preseason.
Tonight’s lineup should look something like this:
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Jason Pominville
Dany Heatley – Charlie Coyle – Justin Fontaine
Matt Cooke – Kyle Brodziak – Torrey Mitchell
Jason Zucker – Mikael Granlund – Nino Niederreiter
Jonas Brodin – Nate Prosser
Marco Scandella – Jared Spurgeon
Clayton Stoner – Matt Dumba
Josh Harding will get the start in net tonight while rookie Johan Gustafsson backs him up. Gustafsson has been one of the best young goalies outside of North America the past few seasons, backstopping Sweden to the 2012 U-20 WJHC gold and dominating the Swedish Elite League with a 20-13-0 record, 1.70 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 33 games with Lulea last season. It’s unknown if the plan is for him to receive any ice-time tonight, considering he’s the only one of Minnesota’s top-4 goalies yet to play a second of preseason action. He’ll back up the Wild’s No. 3 goalie, Darcy Kuemper, this season in Iowa.
With no Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell or David Steckel in the lineup, it’ll be interesting to see how well Minnesota’s non-traditional fourth line fares against a big, physical team like the Blues. Yeo did mention earlier this week that his team may roll with a more talented fourth line that can also provide a bigger role on the power play. It’ll be interesting to see how this particular line is used in tonight’s game, as both Zucker and Granlund put their best effort forward for what could possibly be the last roster spot available.
With two cuts left, 2008 first round pick Tyler Cuma–now healthy–was placed on waivers to be sent down to Iowa, and Steckel was released from his pro tryout agreement with Minnesota. While neither move comes as a surprise, the placement of Jake Dowell onto waivers does. Though it doesn’t mean he would have to go to Iowa immediately if he clears, it does give the team room to keep all the kids or sign Steckel, if they choose to go that route. For now, Steckel will likely sign an AHL deal with Iowa and wait until an NHL opportunity presents itself.
As you can see, tonight is going to be an exciting game to watch for a number of reasons. Be sure to tune into KFAN 100.3 FM to listen to Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid’s on-air coverage of the game. The puck drops at 7pm.
To listen to my Minnesota Wild season preview from yesterday, click here.
Follow Dakota Case at Twitter.com/Dakota_case