The Minnesota Wild are back in action tonight as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota enters the contest tied for seventh in the Western Conference with a 10-4-4 record and 24 points, one point shy of St. Louis for a tie for third in the Central Division. Toronto is currently tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with an 11-6-0 record for 22 points. So far, the West has dominated the East in games between the conferences, notching a combined 74-32-12 record. Minnesota has been no different, going 5-2-2 against the East in what is still a very young season. In addition, the Wild are a very impressive 7-1-2 at home–something the team hopes will play into their favor tonight against a tough Leafs squad.
The big news of the day? Well, here are a couple things worthy of mention.
1. Niklas Backstrom is back in the net after not playing a game since taking the loss in a 5-1 beat down by the Chicago Blackhawks back on October 28th. Of Minnesota’s 18 games this season, Backstrom–the best netminder in franchise history–has played parts of just six, notching a 1-1-2 record to go along with a 3.42 goals against average and .871 save percentage. It’s a good thing someone’s got his back.
Josh Harding has been light’s out this season. Not only does he officially have a commanding grip on the starting job in Minnesota, but his 9-2-2 record, 1.22 goals against average, .947 save percentage and two shutouts have elevated him into a position as one of the league’s elite. There’s even talk about the possibility of him playing for Team Canada in the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Tonight is just a breather for Minnesota’s No. 1 goalie, and Backstrom has to be warmed up and ready to go for when the team plays back-to-back road games against the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators early next week.
2. Mathew Dumba will once again find himself out of the lineup as Clayton Stoner looks to make his return tonight against the Maple Leafs. Stoner will play opposite Elk River, Minnesota native Nate Prosser on the bottom pairing. Tonight will be Dumba’s ninth scratch of the season and fifth in the past six games. In 10 games this season, Minnesota’s highest drafted player since Benoit Pouliot has notched a goal and an assist for two points and a negative-3 rating.
If Keith Ballard can get back into the lineup soon, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Wild decide to send Dumba back to Red Deer for one more year of seasoning. The kid needs playing time, and it needs to be top minutes. He’s too young to play in the AHL, but Dumba can take all the valuable knowledge and skills he has developed at the NHL level back to the WHL and finish his major junior career with a bang…and $925,000, too!
For now, Dumba will have to resort to watching from the press box. From there, he can watch and learn and figure out for himself what he needs to do in his play to keep himself valuable to the Wild’s high hopes for this season. If he truly doesn’t want to be returned to Red Deer, he’ll be taking some serious notes. Let’s just hope he doesn’t put himself on IR with a hand cramp.