The Minnesota Wild cap off a four-game home stand tonight at the Xcel Energy Center, hosting the Calgary Flames. The Wild and Flames are slotted for a 7 p.m. puck drop, and the two teams will rekindle what was once a northwest division rivalry.
Heading into tonight’s action, the Wild are sitting third in the Western Conference’s Central Division. At 8-4-3, the Wild could inch closer to the Chicago Blackhawks with a win, while also chipping away at the Colorado Avalanche’s wide margin at the top of the division. The Flames are keeping the basement warm in the Pacific Division with a 6-6-2 record, edging out only the Edmonton Oilers, but are heating up after an upset win over the ‘Hawks on Sunday.
Charlie Coyle will re-enter the Wild’s lineup at right wing, joining the first line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Coyle was a late addition – he rejoined the team for its Nov. 1 win against the Canadiens, but he aggravated the knee sprain/soreness that has kept him largely out of the action this season.
The Flames will insert defenseman Chad Billins, a Michigan native making his NHL debut alongside veteran Shane O’Brien. It’s the second consecutive game the Flames will have a player making his NHL debut, after goaltender Reto Berra stonewalled the Blackhawks in a 3-2 win on Sunday. Berra will get the start again tonight in St. Paul.
The Wild have picked up the scoring in recent outings – four goals each against the Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils in 4-3 and 4-0 wins, respectively. Minnesota’s second line has been the model of efficiency as Mikael Granlund centers Nino Niederreiter and NHL-Star-of-the-Week Jason Pominville.
Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine will make up the third line, while Torrey Mitchell joins the fourth line after making way for Coyle. Mitchell will wing for Konopka with Dany Heatley on the opposite side.
The WIld’s defensive pairings are unchanged: Ryan Suter – Jonas Brodin in the top spot, with Keith Ballard – Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon – Marco Scandella following up. The Wild brass are procrastinating on a decision on Matthew Dumba; the young defenseman will watch from the box tonight.
The stalwart Josh Harding will start between the pipes for Minnesota.
What to watch for:
- Coyle returning from injury – he’s playing through the soreness, and will his game suffer from it?
- Wild defenseman – would Dumba make more sense than anyone skating tonight? Or should he be reassigned to Red Deer?
- Granlund and Pominville making Minnesotans happy with more plays like this one:
Gear up Wild fans and get to the “X” or a suitable place to catch all the action – it’s almost time to light the lamp.