The Minnesota Wild are in Winnipeg tonight to take on the Jets puck drop is slated for 7 pm Central Time and you can catch the game on Fox Sports North (FSN). The mandatory Christmas break is over so the team flew to Winnipeg this morning, but two players were noticeably absent, Zach Parise and Clayton Stoner. Both are missing their second straight games with what the team calls lower body injuries. One player who was on the flight is Josh Harding who was on IR to adjust his multiple sclerosis treatment regimen. With Parise out of action the Wild are missing one of their top scorers and now have only one player, Jason Pominville, with more than 7 goals. He leads Minnesota with 17 on the season. The Wild offense is going to have to step it up tonight and dig deep to find some goals. It’s no secret that Minnesota has been a lousy road team this season with a record of 6-11-3 away from the Xcel Energy Center. Overall they are 20-14-5 and hold 4th place in the Central Division. The Jets may be just what the Wild need to snap their road losing streak, they are 3-0 vs Winnipeg this season. The forward line for tonight appear to be Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-CharlieCoyle on the top line, Dany Heatley-Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville on the second line. Justin Fontaine-Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke comprise the third unit, while the fourth line features Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka and Stephane Veilleux.
Defensively the Wild pairings look to be Ryan Suter with Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon with Marco Scandella, and Keith Ballard skating with Nate Prosser. It’s good to see Prosser get a second consecutive game in. His chance to shine comes with Stoner on the sidelines with an injury.
The Wild need to do just a couple of things tonight to be successful against the Jets. 1). Score the first goal. 2) Control the puck. Minnesota has developed a bad habit of going down early to teams on the road, getting rattled and struggling to come back. The more they control the puck tonight the less pressure there will be on their defense. They also have a much, much ,much greater chance of drawing a penalty if they can get some good, sustained time in the offensive zone.
Then there is the goaltending. Right now it appears that Niklas Backstrom will get the start in net. Josh Harding is with the team by there has been no word as to when he will return to action. Initially the Wild said he would be back after the Christmas Break but with Minnesota’s next games not until Sunday and Tuesday Harding may be held out until the team returns to home ice. On the season Backstrom is 2-8-2 with a 3.18 goals against average and a save % of .893. In his career vs the Jets however Backstrom is 2-3-2 with a GAA of 2.64 and a .906 save %. The Wild need a strong showing by Backstrom tonight if they want to pick up the two points. At the other end of the ice will be Ondrej Pavelec with his 11-16-4 record with a GAA of 2.94 and a .905 save %.
The Jets have been very inconsistent this season sand have blown a lot of leads and games late with third period goals against. If the Wild can jump out to a good start, get the lead and play a full 60, they should be able to win this game. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis of the night’s action. Until then this is Scott Drain confidently shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!”