The Minnesota Wild take on the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at the Xcel Energy Center looking for their second win in a row. Carolina brings an overall record of 4-2-3 into tonight’s action. They hold down second place in the new Metropolitan Division with 11 points trailing the division leading Pittsburgh Penguins who have 14. The Wild are currently tied for third in points in the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators at 11 points. Minnesota has been strong at home this season going 3-0-2 while the Hurricanes have been better on the road than at home with a 3-1-0 record vs 1-1-3 on home ice. Minnesota has been stingy in the shots against department allowing a league low 21.2 shots on average while putting an average of 30.5 a game at opposing goal tenders. Minnesota has been stingy in goals allowed as well, giving up just 2.00 goals per game. The problem is the Wild haven’t been scoring many more than that, averaging just 2.10 goals per contest. But Hey, as some people say, defense wins championships. The Wild’s defense has been nothing short of fantastic this season along with their goal tending. The offense has been the issue scoring more than 2 goals just twice in 10 total games. Shots are not the problem, the Wild have out shot their opponents in 8 of 10 games so far in the 2013-14 campaign. Finishing is the problem. The typical crowd noise for offensive zone time at the Xcel Energy Center sounds like this, “Yes, Yes, Nice Pass!, Great Move, (noise builds!), pass, pass, SHOT, Awwww darn it. That “aww” is where the shooter missed the net or hit the post or the opposing goalie makes another great save. Minnesota has the ability to make ANY opposing net minder look like a Vezina Trophy winner on any given night. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is trying to find the right combination to stimulate scoring but so far the magic combination has eluded him.
The Wild defensive pairing will be a bit different tonight with Jonas Brodin out of the lineup indefinitely. The Wild say no surgery is planned at this point to repair the broken cheekbone he suffered when hit by a puck just 2:54 into Tuesday’s game against Nashville. In addition to the broken facial bone(s). There is also,reportedly, some dental work to be done as well. Brodin’s face has been described as “a mess” by those who have seen it. He didn’t skate today and will be wearing a full cage on his helmet for some time after he does return to the ice. This injury leaves either a gaping hole or an excellent opportunity on the Wild’s top defensive pairing. Brodin was ranked in the top 10 defensemen in the NHL in Ice Time and was 6th in scoring with 3 goals and 3 assists on the season. Brodin joins fellow defenseman Keith Ballard on the injury list. Ballard is also still out after taking a puck to the face against Buffalo, some 5 games back. Tonight I’d expect to see Jared Spurgeon skating with Ryan Suter. He was paired with Suter early last season before suffering an injury that opened the door for Brodin and we all know how well that turned out! Spurgeon should be able to fit right in with Suter and also absorb some extra time on the power play as well. Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of this injury will be Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba. Look for Prosser to be in the lineup tonight skating in consecutive games for the Wild for the first time this season. He has been the odd man out spending 8 games as a healthy scratch. While no player hopes for an injury to a teammate, Prosser is excited for the chance at more playing time in this, a contract season. Look for Prosser to be paired with Marco Scandella while Mathew Dumba will be paired with Clayton Stoner. It is step up time for the Wild’s defense corps. They must face this latest adversity head on and keep shutting down opposing offenses and not become a liability. Goals have been hard to come by and it’s time for someone to step into Brodin’s role and pick up some scoring opportunities. Last game against the Predators, Minnesota basically played a game with only 5 D-men. The performed admirably sllowing just 16 shots on goal all game and figuring into the game winning tally by Justin Fontaine.
The forward lines for tonight should look pretty much the same as Tuesday. During that game Wild Coach Yeo looked brilliant, switching Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter on the first and third lines mid game. The result was a game winning goal by Fontaine shortly thereafter. The Minnesota coaching staff has been searching for something, anything to spark more goals. Against the Hurricanes look for the top line to consist of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and the perviously mentioned Fontaine. Koivu (1g, 6a) and Parise (4g, 3a) share the team lead in points with 7 each. The second line will remain the same with Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley skating with Mikael Granlund. That trio has accumulated 4 goals and 6 assists to date. All of the goals are Pominville’s, all of the helpers belong to Heatley and Granlund. The third line features the third place point total on the Wild in Matt Cooke (3g, 3a) with 6 points. Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter round out the line that has 13 points (5g, 6a) between them. The fourth line will have it’s usual combination of sand paper and speed with Torrey Mitchell (speed) and Zenon Koponka (sandpaper) skating with Stephane Veilleux (speedy sandpaper). As a group the lines will have their hands full with a Carolina defense that has allowed an average of just 2.27 goals per game with an average of 31.2 shots allowed.
Josh Harding will be in net again for the Wild, his 6th straight start. Josh leads the NHL in goals against average with .96 allowed per game and ranks 4th in save percentage at 95.3%. The rankings are looking at goal tenders with more than 2 games played. The Wild are 4-2-1 when Harding is in the net. Tonight is also Hardings Hope night. The Masterton Trophy will be on hand at the Xcel Energy Center, of which Hording was the winner last season. All fans will receive a Josh Harding poster, while a portion of the game proceeds will go to Harding’s Hope the charity Josh started to raise awareness an help people afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Harding was diagnosed with the disease prior to the 2012-13 season and is performing at an all-star level while battling this degenerative brain disease.
Across the ice tonight will be Cam Ward who brings a 2-2-3 record in to tonight’s game. Wild fans will recognize Carolina’s backup net minder, Anton Khudobif who spent several years in the Wild organization before going to the Boston Bruins during the 2011-12 season. He’s appeared in 3 games this season, compiling a 2-0-0 record. Carolina is in the middle of a four game road trip and won their last game against the New York Islanders 5 days ago. They will be rested and ready for tonight’s game. Jordan Staal will be skating in his 700th NHL game tonight. He scored his first goal of the season just last game. The Hurricanes have struggle offensively this season scoring just 22 goals in 9 contests. They are trying to up their output and plan to put lots of rubber at Josh Harding tonight. The Carolina power play is converting just 15.4% of the time and their penalty kill is average at 81.8%. The Wild will need to stay out of the penalty box while drawing more penalties than they take of they expect to pick up the W tonight.
That’s your Wild game preview for now. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis of the Wild action. For a more in depth look at many of the Minnesota and Carolina stats check out Ger Devine’s article on tonight’s game. You can also follow me on twitter @DrainScott. Until next time this is Scott Drain yelling, “LET’S GO WILD!!!”