Tonight is the first meeting of the season between the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks. The former Northwest Division rivals will only meet three time this season with the new NHL divisional and conference format. The other two battles will be on February 28 and March 26, 2014. Ask Wild fans which NHL team they dislike the most and the majority of them will answer the Canucks. In the state of Minnesota the Canucks are about as popular as syphilis and not as good looking. The Wild are coming off a shootout win in Denver against the Avalanche last Saturday and had the day off Sunday and an intense, spirited practice on Monday. The Canucks last played Saturday as well blowing out the Boston Bruins by a 6-2 final score and are riding a 7 game win streak. Vancouver comes to St. Paul with a overall record of 20-10-5 good for 45 points and 4th place in the Pacific Division. The Canucks home and away records are virtually identical, 10-5-3 and home and 10-5-2 on the road this season. The Wild meanwhile are 19-11-5 overall and hold fourth place in the Central Division with 43 points. Minnesota is dominant at the Xcel Energy Center where they are 13-3-2. The road record is another story where the Wild have struggled to a record of 6-8-3.
The Wild are back home in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center after a tough road trip that saw them lose two out of three games and struggle to score in all three. Minnesota scored just three goals over the last three road games and in the month of December they have scored just 12 goals over 7 games. Their record over those 7 games is 4-3-0. In fact goals have been hard to come by all season as the Wild’s scoring average ranks 28th out of 30 teams at just 2.20 goals a game. Opponents are also averaging 2.20 goals a game. That ranks 4th in the league but, it’s tough to pull out many victories when goals for and goals against are the same. Tonight’s opponent, the Canucks score on average 2.77 goals a game while surrendering 2.29 those rank 11th and 6th respectively.
Tonight the Wild are going to have to come out swinging both literally and figuratively to beat a Vancouver team that is on a roll right now. The Canucks have won 7 straight games, and are unbeaten this month scoring 24 goals over 7 games, that’s an average of 3.43 goals a game. The Wild’s defense corps will have their hands full stopping Vancouver’s top scorers. That means the Sedin twins. Danial Sedin leads the Canucks in scoring with 31 points (11 g, 20a), Henrik Sedin is tied in points with 9 goals and 22 assists. Right behind the Sedins is Ryan Kessler with 26 points (15g, 11a) and Mike Santorelli with 24 points (8g, 16a). The Wild defensive pairs for tonight are Ryan Suter with Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon skating with Marco Sscandella, and Clayton Stoner with partner Keith Ballard.
The forward lines for the Wild tonight look to be Mikko Koivu (7g, 18a), Zach Parise (14g,12a) and Charlie Coyle (3g,5a) on the top line, with Nino Niederreiter (6g,10a), Eric Haula (0g,2a) and Jason Pominville(15g,8a) on the 2nd. The third line features Brett Bulmer, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke, with Torrey Mitchell Zenon Konopka adn Dany Heatley on the fourth line. The Wild are going to have to get an early lead tonight if they hope to beat the streaking Canucks. Minnesota has the players to do it and they are always fired up facing Vancouver, especially on home ice. Even thought the teams are no longer division rivals there is still plenty of bad blood between them. Puck possession is going to be critical for the Wild in order to limit Vancouver’s shots and scoring chances. Minnesota is also going to have to draw some penalties and convert on their power play chances, both of those have been in short supply as of late.
Josh Harding will get the start in goal tonight with a record of 17-5-3 on the season ans a goals against average of 1.49 and a save percentage of .939. At the other end of the ice will be Roberto Luongo who comes into this game with a record of 16-8-5, a goals against of 2.19 and a 9.21 save %. I like the choice of Luongo in goal as he has struggled against the Wild in St. Paul and hasn’t started a game in the Xcel Energy Center since 2010. Luongo is 3-9-2 in his career against the Wild in St. Paul. Harding has also been excellent at home this season posting a record of 13-1-0 with three shutouts and is the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy at this point in the season.
This should be a physical game with plenty of chirping between the two squads. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis of the evenings action. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting, “Beat the Canucks, Let’s Go Wild!!”