Maybe some home cookin’ will help cure the Wild’s scoring woes as they take on the Nashville Predators tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. This will be a notionally televised game on the NBC Sports Network with puck drop at 7 pm Central time. Minnesota starts a streak of games tonight that see then at home for 6 of the next 7 games. The Wild are 3-3-3 on the season and are currently in 5th in the Central Division with 9 points while their opponent Nashville is 5-3-1 and hold 4th in the division with 11 points. Heading into tonight’s game the Wild are a team of opposites. They have the lowest shots against in the league at 21.8 per game while they are averaging more than 30 shots on goal themselves. Their goals against is 2.22 while they are scoring just 2.11 goals per game. The Wild power play is ranked 4th in the NHL at 26.3% while their penalty kill is near the bottom, ranked 29th ahead of only Calgary at 73%. OUCH! Minnesota does not allow many 5 on 5 goals, they are tops in the league allowing just 5 in 9 games this season. They don’t score many either with just at 9 goals full strength in that same span which ranks them 28th. Goal tending has been fantastic with Josh Harding putting up some of the best numbers in the NHL with a save percentage of 94.8% and a goals against average of 1.11. Harding trails only Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Avalanche in GAA. His save percentage is ranked 8th out of all net minders with more than 1 game played. Even with those sterling numbers he is 3-2-1 on the season because of lousy goal support from his teammates.
Heading into tonight’s action Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is making line changes once again. He’s putting the lines back to where they were 2 games ago with Nino Niederreiter reuniting with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu on the top line. Jason Pominville moves back to the second line with Dany Heatley and Mikael Geanlund. The third line will have Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine whick has been both a productive and defensively sound grouping this season. The fourth line grinders tonight will be, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka and Stephane Veilleux. In practice on Monday the Wild were working on attacking the net more and spent time working on getting pucks to the front of the net and then generating multiple scoring chances. We’ll see if that pays off tonight.
Defensively the pairing should be the same as last game. Keith Ballard is still not feeling well after taking a puck to the face a few games ago and will be in the press box tonight along with Mathew Dumba. Elk River’s Nate Prosser will get his second start of the year pairing with Clayton Stoner. Of course the top pair will be Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Brodin has 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points and sees him tied with Mikko Koivu (1g, 5a) and Matt Cooke (3g, 3a) for the team lead in points. He also ranks in the top 10 of all NHL defensemen in time on ice and points. Ryan Suter will be playing his 600th game tonight against the only other team he’s played for in his career. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella round out the defensive pairs for tonight.
The Predators are finishing off a four game road trip tonight and have picked points in each of those 4 games. There will be a couple of familiar face in the Predator’s line up with Matt Cullen returning to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since signing with Nashville in the off season. Eric Nystron is another former Wild skater now playing int he Music City. Those of you who are Stillwater, MN high school hockey fans will certainly recognize former Coach Phil Housley who is now an assistant with Nasheille. Housley did also play a bit in the NHL, just 1495 games, scoring 338 goals and 894 assists for 1232 career points. He played his high school hockey for South St. Paul. Housley has just about as much Minnesota hockey DNA as you can get!
Tonight is also Hockey Fights Cancer Night with lots of lavender colors around the arena. The dasher ads will be lavender as will stick tape, coach’s ties, and more. The Wild are fighting a scoring drought as well and hopefully tonight is the breakout game. I expect the Wild to come out aggressive and try to puck the pace of the game while getting pucks to the front of the net quickly and often. I’m not worried about the defense as long as they keep playing the way they have been so far this season. Shots and chances will be the starting point with finishing some of those opportunities a must if the Wild hope to climb into a 4th place tie with the Predators tonight. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis of the action. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!!”