The Minnesota Wild are riding a three game win streak as they head into the Air Canada Centre to take on the Atlantic Division leading Maple Leafs. Tonight is the second game of back to back contests for the Wild while the Leafs last played Saturday beating the Edmonton Oilers in overtime. The Wild are currently in third place in the Central Division of the Western Conference while the Leafs have won 5 of 6 games this season and are in first place in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. This will be a much tougher test for Minnesota than they faced against winless Buffalo Monday night. The Wild are 1-1 on the road with the victory coming last night at the start of a four game road swing that sees the team taking on Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida in the final three games. The big question for the Wild is who will be starting in goal tonight. Josh Harding has started the last three games winning all of them with Niklas Backstrom recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Wild’s game against Nashville last Tuesday. Backstrom is listed as day to day and is reportedly close to returning to action. While Backstrom has been out Darcy Kuemper has been backing up Harding. Harding has a 3-1 record, a 1.06 goals against average and a .948 save percentage. Kuemper has 6 games of NHL experience with a 2-1 record, .a 916 save % and 2.08 GAA. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has not yet announced who will be in goal tonight, but all indication are that Kuemper will get the nod. Manning the net at the other end of the ice will be Jonathan Bernier who’s posted a 1-4 record to date. He has a .946 save % and a 1.75 goals against average. Neither team has surrendered many goals this season with the Wild giving up 12 total to the Leafs 15. Goals will definitely be at a premium tonight.
Special teams play will be a key to winning the game for the Wild and running their win streak to four games. The power play is one of the best in the league right now scoring at a 30.8 percent clip, fifth best in the league, Both the first ans second power play units are capable of scoring on any given shift. The Penalty kill however is weaker and has struggled at times. Last night against Buffalo it looked solid going 4 for 4. The Leafs how ever are not the Sabres and Toronto’s power play is ranked just behind the Wild’s at 29.2%. Minnesota is going to have to stay out of the penalty box and generate some man advantage chances if they hope to win this game.
The Wild only allow 21.7 shots per game on average the best in the NHL while their shots on goal average 30.3 right in the middle of the league. The Wild will have to score 5 on 5 tonight and play hard nosed defense putting the Maple Leafs back on their heels and forcing them to come the length of the ice to get any scoring chances. The Wild’s top scorers are Matt Cooke (3g, 3 a), Jonas Brodin (2g, 3a), Mikko Koivu n(0g, 4a), Zach Parise (4g, 0a) and Jared Spurgeon (1g, 3a) as you can see two of the top five are defensemen. While they can jump into the play and are dangerous on special teams they will have to be careful against a Toronto squad that can strike quickly.
Toronto is looking for their third win in a row and bring some potent offensive talents to the table. They are led by Joffrey Lupul (5g, 3a), Phil Kessel (2g, 5a), Mason Raymond (2g, 4a) and Nazem Kadri (2g, 4a). Another big part of their offense James VanRiemsdyk is not expected to play tonight due to injury. Minnesota’s defense is going to have their hand full with this lineup. In the past the Wild have not fared well against the Maple leafs going 3-7-0 overall and 1-5-0 in Toronto. IT will take a disciplined team effort to win tonight.
Puck Drop is slated for 6pm Central Time and will be televised on Fox Sports North (FSN). The Wild are hot right now and have a chance to move up in the Central Conference standings. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis of tonight’s action. Until then this is Scott Drain yelling, “Let’s GO Wild!”