It’s Duck season! The Minnesota Wild host the Anaheim Ducks, tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. The puck drops at 7 pm as the Wild play their second game of the 2013-14 season. They’re looking for their first victory after an opening night shootout loss to the Kings. The Ducks come to St. Paul looking for their first victory of the season as well. They lost their season opener to the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 in a game that featured a shouting match between Duck’s Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and Av’s Head Coach Patrick Roy that earned Roy a $10,000 dollar fine after he pushed the plexi-glass panel separating the two teams benches and it nearly toppled over onto those in the vicinity.
The Wild enter tonight’s action with a bit of a sour taste in their mouth after taking a 3-2 shootout loss at the hands of the LA Kings to open the season. The loss was the first for the Wild in a home opener as well. Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was pleased with his team’s effort but noted they still lost the game. The Wild will need that same level of hard work, win more battles, and lessen the mental errors and more if they hope to put one in the win column tonight. The Ducks took three wins in three games against the Wild last season including a 2-1 win at the “X” in March.
Minnesota’s forward lines will look pretty much the same as opening night. The “Captains Line” consisting of Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise is as talented as any top line in the NHL. They accounted for 10 of the Wild’s 29 shots on goal for the game and were dominant on the faceoff dot as well. The second line consisting of Nino Neiderreiter, Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatleyhad an excellent game with Brodin scoring his first goal as a member of the Wild. Coyle showed why he and Neiderreiter deserve to be on the Wild’s #2 power play unit with slick passing, great puck control and a willingness to SHOOT. The latter is something Minnesota has struggled with for years, a pass first shoot second mind set,whether its a 5 on 5 or a power play situation. The third line with Matt Cooke, Mikael Granlund, and Kyle Brodziak scored the first goal of the season for the Wild, a goal created by an effective forecheck from Cooke, nice passing from Granlund and Brodziak culminating in a shot the caromed into the net of Cook’s foot as he set up shop in from of King’s net minder Quick. That kind of work ethic will go a long way toward a victory tonight. The fourth line has a nice combination of grit and speed with Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell and rookie Justin Fontaine. As expected Konopka dropped the mitts in defense of a teammate after Jonas Brodin was roughly boarded by the King’s Kyle Clifford. Wild Coach Yeo has said he wants a “Pack of wolves mentality” with teammates coming to each others aid and a mess with one you mess with all attitude. Yeo wants his team to be aggressive and difficult to play against both physically and mentally. This kind of toughness will come in handy tonight against a Duck’s team that has pushed the Wild around like a school yard bully in past years. I’m expecting to see the same line combinations for the Wild tonight.
The Ducks come to St. Paul looking for that first win of the season and looking to their win streak against the Wild. Anaheim will be without the services of Teemu Selanne this evening as Ducks Head Coach Boudreau announced he will scratch the 43 year old for the second games of 12 back to back series this season. The 2013-14 season looks to be Selanne’s farewell tour of the NHL, the culmination of a NHL career that started back in 1992. This would have been Wild fan’s final chance to see Selanne skate on the ice of the Xcel Energy Center. Oh well, I’m okay with that as it means one potent offensive force will be missing from the Duck’s lineup tonight. Anaheim is coming off a season that saw them finish atop the old Pacific Division with a +22 goal differential (140 to 118) vs their opponents in the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign. This year’s Duck squad is largely the same with a core group including Captain Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Penner, Corey Perry and Saku Koivu the 38 year old “big brother” to Wild Captain Mikko Koivu. I’ve always enjoyed these battles of the brothers and with Saku nearing retirement there’s not many more on the docket.
Defensively one of the big story lines for Minnesota will be Mathew Dumba’s probable NHL debut. Minnesota Coach Yeo held Dumba out of the season/home opener to lessen the pressure somewhat on the 19-year old blue liner. If Dumba is in tonight the defensive pairings will shift some. The top pair will be the same with Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. You don’t mess with success in regards to those two. The second and/or third pairs will see the change. Dumba has been skating with Keith Ballard in practice and preseason action. I like that combination of youth calming veteran presence. Ballard also likes to talk to his D-partner on the ice as well as the bench, something that Dumba can only benefit from. Dumba has offensive talents and can jump up into the play and push the pace while Ballard’s influence can keep that a positive experience and not an odd man rush headed back up ice aimed at net minder Niklas Backstrom. That combo leaves Clayton Stoner the odd man out. In the opener Jared Spurgeon paired with Marco Scandella and they played a strong game especially Spurgeon who leads the second power play unit that accounted for the Wild’s second goal on Thursday. He is also valuable on the penalty kill as well. That would leave Nate Prosser and Stoner watching from the press box tonight.
I think we’ll see Backstrom in net for the second straight game for the Wild. He had an excellent outing Thursday allowing just two goals in regulation before crashing and burning during the shootout. See my game review article from Thursday for my thoughts on Backstrom and shootouts. Josh Harding will be backing up Backy and I do expect him to make his season debut within the week however. Backstrom is 8-7-0 against the Ducks in his career and has a 2.45 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in those 15 games. The Ducks will counter with Viktor Fasth who is looking for his first victory of the season after surrendering 6 goals to the Avalanche in Anaheim’s season opener.
If you’re head out to the game tonight, the Wild are throwing a pregame party outside of the Xcel Energy Center’s gate 2 starting at 4:30 pm weather permitting. In keeping with the Duck hunting theme tonight all fans attending the game will receive a blaze orange ball cap sporting the Wild’s script logo on the front. It’s always an interesting view on Hat Night with the majority of the Team of 18000 wearing those caps. The Wild enter action tonight hungry for their fist victory and Duck is on the menu! I’ll be back after the action with a game wrap up. Until next time this is Scott Drain chanting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”