Tonight the Minnesota Wild face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center in front of a national TV audience on the NHL Network. In the Twin Cities the game will be on Fox Sports North (FSN). Puck drop is 6pm Central Time. The Wild are starting a four game road trip with the Christmas break coming after the first three games. The Penguins are back home after taking a 4-3 shootout win last night in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. This is the first of two meeting between the Wild and Penguins this season, the second is April 5th in St. Paul. Minnesota comes to Pittsburgh looking to improve a poor road record this season that currently stands at 6-8-3. The Penguins are the only team in the NHL with more home ice wins than the Wild. Pittsburgh has a home record of 15-3-0 one win better than The Wild’s 14-3-2. Overall the teams have played the same number of games, 36 each, with the Penguins holding an edge in points 51 to 45. Currently that 51 points is good for the top position in the Eastern Conference, that same total would rank 3rd in the West.Pittsburgh also leads the Metropolitan Division. The Wild enter tonight’s action holding the 8th spot in the Western Conference and they’re tied for third in the in the Central Division.
The Wild have fared well in Pittsburgh over the years, winning their last six games in Pittsburgh, out scoring the Penguins 24-6 in those games. The Wild will need to continue to score at that pace to pick up the win tonight. Pittsburgh scores an average of just over three goals a game while giving up just 2.17. Minnesota on the other hand is averaging the same 2.19 goals both for and against this season. Over their last 10 road games the Wild have averaged just 1.60 goals a game. That won’t get the job done against the Penguins who’ve averaged 3.40 goals a game in their last 10 home games.
The goaltending matchup tonight will be interesting with Niklas Backstrom taking over in goal for Josh Harding who was placed on IR Wednesday to adjust his multiple sclerosis medication regimen. For more information on that click here. Backstrom has appeared in 11 games during the 2013-14 season and has a record of 2-5-2, a goals against average of 2.93 and a .900 save %. He’s going to be tested against a Penguins team that averages 31 shots a game and has an array of talented goal scorers. At the other end of the ice will be Marc-Andre Fleury and his league leading win total of 20 wins on a record of 20-8-1 this season. Fleury has a goals against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .924. One interesting piece of information about Fleury is, the Minnesota Wild are the ONLY team in the NHL he has NOT beaten. That’s a stat I’d like to see continue. One thing is for sure tonight. If the Wild do not give Backstrom some goal support, they will not win this game. 1-2 goals isn’t going to be enough to beat a Penguins team loaded with firepower.
The forward lines for Minnesota are going to look the same as last game vs Vancouver. The defensive pairing will be the same as well. This is Matt Cooke‘s first game back in Pittsburgh against the team he spent 5 seasons with. Mikael Granlund did travel with the team and is practicing but will not be in the lineup tonight. The Wild have picked up some big wins recently and have been scoring in the third period to do it. Tonight they will need all their offensive prowess to beat a Penguins team that has won 5 straight even though they are missing their top four defensemen to injury. (Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi) The Wild have gone 9-4-2 against teams from the Eastern Conference so far this season. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting loud and proud, “Let’s GO Wild!”