The Minnesota Wild wrap up their first road trip of the season tonight against the Florida Panthers. The Wild bring a 3-3-2 record in the match up against the 2-6-0 Panthers. To put it simply the Wild are looking for one thing tonight. Offense. If they can get some offense the win will happen. In the three games on this road trip the Wild have scored an anemic total of 4 goals. They have gone 1-2 in those three games and are 1-4 on the road this season. Mikko Koivu scored the lone goal last game against the Lightning and hopefully that will open the floodgates to more scoring from the Wild Captain.
The goal tending situation is an intriguing one this evening. Will this be the night Niklas Backstrom returns to the net or will Josh Harding play his 7th game of the season. Backstrom backed up Harding in the teams loss on Thursday and could be ready to return to action. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is looking for ways to spark his team and a goal tending switch could be one of them. Not that Harding has been putting up poor numbers, it’s actually the opposite. Harding’s 3-2 record does not reflect his incredible .946 save percentage and 1.15 goals against average. His goals against leads the NHL and his save % is in the top 8. Another amazing stat is that Harding has only allowed 6 goals all season. He is definitely the hot hand right now but, the team also has his longer term health to consider. We are just under a tenth of the way into the 82 game season and wearing out Harding early on could hurt the team later. Keeping and using a two headed goalie monster would a great tool for the Wild as the season progresses.
The shakeups tonight will definitely come on the forward lines. The second line in any combination has not score a goal this season. Matt Cooke is a good player and seems to have adjusted his game but is he really who you expect to see at the top of the points list for the Wild? Mikko Koivu (1g, 5 a) is tied with Cooke (3g, 3a) for the Wild points lead.with 6. Tonight Jason Pominville will be reunited with Koivu and Zach Parise on the Wild top line. That group has 8 goals and 6 assists between them this season. The problem second line will feature Cooke, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Wild Coach Yeo hopes this line shuffling will be the personnel shift the Wild need to get some secondary scoring. Dany Heatley is off to the worst start of his NHL career and has been demoted to the third line skating with Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. That leaves Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, and Stephane Veilleux on the grind line. Will this be the magic combination? We’ll see tonight against a struggling Panthers team that has totaled just 4 points in the standing this season.
Defensively the pairs tonight will be the same as last game with Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon-Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella-Clayton Stoner. Ballard skated today but is not ready to return after taking a puck to the face a couple of games ago. The other scratch is Nate Prosser. The defense has been playing well but will have to avoid taking any unnecessary penalties against Florida. The Wild can’t expect to win when they give any team in the NHL 7 power plays as they did against Tampa Bay last game.
Players to watch on the Panthers include goalie Tim Thomas who is 1-3 on the season with a goals against of 4.31 and an .880 save %. Florida has been struggling offensively as well with Tomas Fleischman(1g, 6a), Brad Boyes (4g, 2a), and Jonathan Huberdeau(3g,2 a). Ex-Wild Tom Gilbert now skates for Florida as does Minnesota Native and former U of M Gopher Nick Bjugstad. Tonight will be his first game against the Wild. Puck drop is slated for 6:00pm Central Time and you can see the action on Fox Sports North (FSN). I’ll be back after the game with a recap of the Wild’s win (Hopefully!). You can also follow me on twitter at @DrainScott. Until Next time this is Scott Drain shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!”