The Minnesota Wild host the New Jersey Devils tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. This will be the first time Zach Parise faces his old teammates on the ice since joining the Wild in 2012. The Wild enter the game in 4th place in the Central division with 17 points on a record of 7-4-3. They are just 1 point back of the 3rd place St. Louis Blues. The Devils are currently in 7th in the Metropolitan Division with 10 points on a 3-6-4 record. New Jersey comes into tonight’s action after being shutout Saturday night by the Philadelphia Flyers and thug goaltender Ray Emery.
Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo will probably go with the same lines as the 3rd period of last game except Charlie Coyle is out and Carson McMillan, up from the Iowa Wild is in. Coyle is now listed as day to day with an undisclosed injury. Hopefully he has not reinjured his knee too badly or anything else for that matter. That means Zach Parise (6g,4a) and Mikko Koivu (1g,7a) with Carson McMillan on the top line. The 2nd line which produced three goals last game will be Jason Pominville (9g,1a), Mikael Granlund (0g,10a)and Nino Niederreiter (3g,3a). Pominville is on a 3 game goal streak with 5 in that span. Just a quick thought on El Nino and Jared Spurgeon. Both of those players came from the New York Islanders system Spurgeon now is the Wild’s #3 D-man and Niederreiter is thriving on the 2nd line. Were these two bad fits for New York or did the Islanders fail to see the talent, skill and drive Spurgeon and Niederreiter have? The Wild saw it and so far the results have been great. Back to the lines. The third line tonight will have Matt Cooke with Justin Fontaine and Kyle Brodziak. This line has been a pleasant surprise this season with Cooke 4th on the team in points with 8 (3g, 5a), that’s more points (8) than penalty minutes (6) for Cooke. Fontaine is having a good rookie campaign with 4 goals to date and Brodziak has 4 points (2g,2a). The fourth line will have Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell and Dany Heatley. Koivu, Brodziak, Cooke and Charlie Coyle were not on the ice for this mornings optional skate. The first three there are probably just taking the morning off to prepare and rest andI wouldn’t read any injuries into their absence.
Defensively the Wild will most likely use the same pairs as Friday. Those pairs look to be Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon-Marco Scandella, and Keith Ballard-Clayton Stoner. This means Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba will be the scratches. The Minnesota defense will be tasked with stopping the Devils Jaromir Jagr who is on a five game point streak and leads New Jersey in points with 10 (3g, 7a). The number two score on the Devils squad is former Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky who has total 9 points (1g, 8a) so far this season. The Devils have not scored a lot of goals this season, their top goal scorers are Damien Brunner, Adam Henrique, and Michael Ryder with just 4 goals apiece. Compare this to the Wild whose top 3 goal scores have a combined 19 goals.
Josh Harding will be starting in goal tonight. Harding has been a stud in net this season compiling a league leading goals against average of 1.22 AND league leading save percentage of .946! He’s appeared in 10 games compiling a 6-2-1 record. Harding’s goals against average is a half a goal per game better than 2nd place Tukka Rask of Boston at 1.73. This will be Harding’s first career start against New Jersey. Across the ice will be Cory Schneider, the Vancouver Canucks castoff, who brings a pedestrian 1-3-2 record, a 2.14 goals against, and a .915 save percentage into tonight’s game. The Devils have had trouble getting shots on goal this season averaging just 25.6 to the Wild’s 30. Minnesota is at the top of the heap in shots allowed with a league low average of 23.9 per game.
The Wild need to get a fast start tonight, score first and keep the Devils on their heels. Minnesota had Saturday night off while the Devils were in action vs Philly. Another area the Wild need to control is penalties. They took just two last game for 4 minutes total. Staying out of the box tonight will go a long way toward a win. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis. Until then this is Scott Drain shrieking, “LET’S GO WILD!”