The Minnesota Wild are on their first roadie of the young season facing the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone arena. Both teams are looking for their first win of the season. The Wild have taken their first two games beyond regulation, losing in OT and shootout. The Predators have lost their first two contests on the road to St. Louis and Colorado in regulation. Last season the Wild took the season series 2 games to 1 and these teams always seem to play close ones with 6 0f the last 7 decided by a single goal. Tonight is the home opener for the Predators and they’ll be fired up to play in front of friendly fans for the first time in the 2013-14 season. Minnesota has out shot both opponents by a 62-48 total but just couldn’t finish off the victory. A couple of storylines to follow for the Wild are the call up of Carson McMillan from the Iowa Wild. Assistant Captain Zach Parise left practice early yesterday feeling ill necessitating the roster move. Parise did fly with the team to Nashville, so that is a good sign, if he can go tonight McMillan will be a scratch. Another situation is the loss of Charlie Coyle for 3-4 weeks with what the team is calling a knee sprain. He was injured on a play involving Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks, a collision that has caused the Wild to call up speedster Jason Zucker from Iowa in the AHL. Zucker was the last player cut from the Wild roster at the end of training camp, a move that has left Zucker hungry for some time with the NHL club. If Zucker has been looking for an opportunity to show the Wild he deserves to stay with the Wild, this is it. This is a time where the Wild can show the depth they claim to have, with off season free agent signings and a number of young players waiting in the wings just a few hours south in Des Moines. Zucker has shown the ability to play at the NHL level but his consistency has been called into question. He’s said as much and knows that a bad game here and there can happen but, he must bounce back immediately with a strong effort.
While the Wild have picked up points in their first two contests, the empty feeling left at the conclusion to those games should have the boys fired up for tonight and looking to finish off a foe by not letting up until the final horn sounds. The Predators have struggled as #1 net minder Pekka Rinne gave up 3 goals on 6 shots before being yanked in the teams opener against St. Louis and battling to a 2-1 score against Colorado before an empty netter sealed the win of the Avalanche. Niklas Backstrom will most likely get the start in net for the Wild. He has looked solid in both games thus far, even though his .877 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average are below his historic averages of .917 and 2.43. Rinne will be starting in goal for Nashville and brings a .878 save percentage and 4.35 goals against into this evenings action. If the Predators goalie struggles the Wild must take advantage early and often. One encouraging sign for the Wild is a 33% conversion rate on the power play, an area in which they struggled last season. Currently Minnesota ranks 4th in the league in power play goals. In penalty killing they rank fifth worst allowing power play goals at a 33.3% clip. In the shot department the Wild are showing a willingness to put the puck on net averaging 31 shots on goal so far. The are limiting opponents shots to just over 24 a game. I know it’s early but most of last season these two stats were reversed with the Wild averaging 28 shots on net while surrendering the same.
Tonight’s line for the Wild could see a shake up if Parise is unable to answer the call. My guess is that he’ll play and the #1 line of Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Parise will remain intact. The second line will consist of Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund and call up Jason Zucker in place of Charlie Coyle. The third line will see the combination of speed and grit we’ve come to expect from Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. Line 4 will feature the same combination of sandpaper and speed with Torrey Mitchell and Justin Fontaine along with enforcer /bunny daddy Zenon Konopka.
Defensively the Wild will roll out the same top pair of minute munchers Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. They will be tasked with stopping the Preds top line combination. The second pair for Minnesota will also remain the same with Jared Spurgeon skating with Marco Scandella. The third pair will be different than last game with Mathew Dumba watching form the press box as Clayton Stoner gets the call and is paired with Keith Ballard. Nashville has totaled 3 goals total in their first two games coming from the sticks of Mike Fisher, David Legwand and Paul Gaustad. Fisher leads the team in points with two while 5 other players have a single point. The Wild and the Predators will be getting a lot more familiar with each other this season as they are now divisional foes facing each other five times over the course of the season. I past season they played a max of three time each as members of the Western Conference. Nashville and Minnesota are two of the teams benefiting most from NHL realignment. Fans of each club will definitely appreciate fewer late night puck drops coming from west coast road swings. The teams will benefit from a lighter travel schedule and more games being played in their own time zone.
Some players to watch on the Predators squad include former Wild Matt Cullen who signed with Nashville this past summer. Cullen may be getting older but he is still a fast skater and gifted scorer. He is also intimately well acquainted with the Wild’s system. Eric Nystrom is another former Wild who spent the 2011-12 campaign with Minnesota. Even the Nashville coaching staff has Minnesota ties with 2004 Hall of Fame player turned coach Phil Housley. He had accumulated the most points in NHL history for an American born player ( 338 goals, 894 assists = 1232 points) until Mike Modano passed him in 2007. Before joining Nashville Housley was the head coach of the Stillwater Ponies boys hockey team. The Wild’s offense will be up against Ryan Suter’s old defensive partner Shea Weber and highly touted rookie D-man Seth Jones. Other Predators to watch include Gabriel Bourque, David Legwand, Matt Hendricks and Patrick Hornqvist. The Preds are going to be fired up with all the pomp and circumstance of the pregame festivities surrounding the home opener. It’s up to the Wild to turn that enthusiasm around and use it to their benefit. The Wild must score first in this game and take the crowd out of the equation. Staying out of the penalty box and winning the man up vs man down war while limiting the number of shots on goal for Nashville is key. Minnesota needs to use thier team speed and depth of 4 solid lines to control the pace of the game and keep the ice tilted toward Pekka Rinne. This should be a good test for the Wild early in the 2013-14 road to the playoffs. Minnesota has the firepower to put up some goals while playing a sound game defensively. It’s time to get a devisional rivalry going with the kids from Music City. I’ll be back after the game with a recap to tonight’s action and analysis of the same. Until next time this is Scott Drain shouting loud and and proud in St. Paul, ‘LET’S GO WILD!”