Tonight the Minnesota Wild are in Columbus to face the Blue Jackets. Puck drop is scheduled for 6 pm Central Time at Nationwide Arena. The Wild are coming off one of their biggest wins of the season beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 Thursday night. Columbus last played Tuesday, taking a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is the first of two meetings this season between Minnesota and Columbus. The Wild enter tonight’s action with a 17-8-5 overall record and a 5-5-3 record away from the Xcel Energy Center. The Blue Jackets are 11-14-3 overall and 6-7-1 at home so far this season. This is another chance for the Wild to take two points from a struggling Eastern Conference team. The Wild hold down the 3rd spot in the Central Division with 39 points while the Blue Jackets are in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division with 25 points.
The Wild are coming off a big, emotional win Thursday over Chicago and they have to put that aside and focus on the task at hand. The forward lines should be pretty much the same barring any undisclosed injuries. The top line will consist of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville. Next is the Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley combination. The line of Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, and Matt Cooke has been one of the most consistent over the last several games, providing some goals, moving the puck well and adding a punishing forecheck to the mix. The 4th line consists of Eric Haula, Justin Fontaine and Mike Rupp. That leaves Zenon Konopka as the odd man out. We’ll know for sure who watches from the press box closer to game time.
Defensively the pairings won’t be changing, why mess with success. Those pairs will be Ryan Suter with Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon skating with Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard paired with Clayton Stoner. That means Mathew Dumba and Nate Prosser will be the healthy scratches. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo says he wants to get Prosser and Dumba some games but that’s been difficult to do with the Wild’s better play over the last few games.
The Minnesota defense will have their hands full with Columbus’ top scorers including Ryan Johansen (10g,10a), James Wisniewski (2g,16a), and Brandon Dubinsky (5g, 10a). As you can see the Blue Jackets are struggling to score goals with only one player, Johansen, with double digit goals. There is another speedy veteran by the name of Marian Gaborik who is a threat to score every time he steps onto the ice. Gaborik has had a slow start to the season tallying just 5 goals and 6 assists in 17 games this season. He has had some injury issues that have cost him 11 games to date. The biggest hurdle right now for Columbus is the loss of number 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who suffered a groin injury this past Tuesday and has been place on IR. That means Curtis McElhinney will get the start in net for Columbus tonight. He has a record of 1-3-1 with a goals against average of 2.34 and a save percentage .925
The Wild coaching staff want to get Niklas Backstrom some work and give Josh Harding a night off. Backstrom is 2-3-2 this season with a 2.77 goals against and a .896 save percentage over the course of 10 games. The Wild will need to start the game just as they did Thursday against the Blackhawks with excellent puck control and scoring the games first goal. Another area Minnesota must avoid is too many penalties. The Wild can’t afford to give up multiple power play opportunities in a single period. Playing with discipline and focusing on the game plan laid out by Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo and the rest of the coaching staff. This is a very winnable game for the Wild who are facing a somewhat desperate opponent.
I’ll be back after the action tonight with a recap and analysis of the game. The Wild need to win to keep pace in the Central division with the top four teams, Chicago 44pts, St. Louis 41 pts, Minnesota 39 pts. Colorado 38 pts. separated by just 6 points. In addition to the Wild the Blackhawks and Avalanche are in action tonight. My favorite NHL team is the Minnesota Wild and whoever plays the Blackhawks! Until next time the is Scott Drain shouting in the frigid state of “Minnesota, Let’s Go Wild!!”