The Minnesota Wild take on the Washington Capitals tonight at 7 pm in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. All time the Wild are 6-0-0 against Washington in St. Paul. For Minnesota hockey fans this is the only chance this season to see Alexander Ovechkin, the other Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhale Grabovski here in Minnesota. The Wild are trying to win consecutive games and stay undefeated in 2014. The Wild are wrapping up a four games home stand before they head out on the road for a game with the Phoenix Coyotes this coming Thursday. Currently Minnesota is in fourth place in the Central Division, tied with the Dallas Stars with 47 points. The Capital are holding down 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division a mere 16 points behind division leading Pittsburgh. The Wild enter tonight’s game with a home ice record of 15-5-2 that matches up nicely with the Capitals pedestrian road record of 7-7-4.
Injuries are starting to take a serious toll on the Wild with Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon, Justin Fontaine, and Josh Harding all out for at least tonight’s game and possibly many more. There are some young players on the Wild and the Iowa Wild who have been chomping at the bit to see more minutes or get some games in with the NHL team. Well their chance is here and it’s time to see who can step up and take advantage of the opportunity. One example of this is Jason Zucker. Last game against the Sabres he had 1 goal on 3 shots and finished with a +1 rating in 11:36 of ice time.
Injuries are shaking up the Wild’s defense pairings with Jared Spurgeon on injured reserve with what the team is calling a “lower body injury” Spurgeon was hurt blocking a shot last game against the Buffalo Sabres. The team says there is no time table for his return and they estimate he may be out for a few weeks. Minnesota’s defense is getting pretty thin with Spurgeon out and Mathew Dumba playing in the IIHF World Junior Championships. Jonathon Blum as been recalled from the Iowa Wild to fill Spurge’s roster spot. The shuffled defensive pairings for tonight game look to be Jonas Brodin rejoining Ryan Suter on the top pair, Marco Scandella will skate with Nate Prosser while Keith Ballard is paired with Clayton Stoner. The defense is going to have their hands full tonight against a Capitals team that averages 2.85 goals and 31 shots per game.
The Wild forward lines for tonight will look a bit different with Parise still on IR with the broken bone in his foot, Justin Fontaine was injured in practice Friday after accidentally colliding with Keith Ballard. Brett Bulmer has been called up from the Iowa Wild to fill Fantains spot on the third line with Matt Cooke and Charlie Coyle. The Top line will be the same as last game with Mikko Koivu skating with Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville. The second line, also known as the “21 line” consists of Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Against Buffalo that line accounted for 1 goal and 2 assists. The fourth liners tonight include Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak and Stephane Veilleux. Bottom line for the offense tonight is score some goals. The Capitals allow almost 3 goals a game and have an average penalty kill at 81.9%. Conversely Washington’s power play is good, very good, ranked second in the league scoring at a 25% clip. Their were 10 Wild players who picked up at least a point last game with Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter leading the way with a pair of assists each. Minnesota. That’s just the kind of effort the Wild need tonight. The team is just past the half way point of the regular season. While there is still plenty of time left for the Wild to climb back into the playoff picture the can’t afford another 6 game losing streak or bad month (5-9-0) like this December past.
Niklas Backstrom will get the start in net for the Wild tonight. His record climbed to 3-9-2 with Thursday’s victory and his goals against average has dropped to 3.16 while his save % is up to .896. Across the ice will be Braden Holtby with an overall record of 13-10-2. He has an goals against average of 3.99 and s save % of .915. Thursday’s game did wonders for Backstrom’s confidence. He finally got some goal support AND great defense in the same games from his teammates. He’ll need that same combination again tonight to get win number 4 tonight.
Staying out of the penalty box tonight is paramount it the Wild are going to take the win. The Wild’s power play is 13th in the league converting power plays into goals 18.4% of the time. Minnesota’s penalty kill, missing to important parts in Parise and Spurgeon, has to shut out the Capitals tonight. Alexander Ovechkin is deadly on the man advantage, scoring 12 of his league leading 31 goals on the power play. A team can’t just shut down Ovechkin and his league leading 31 goals. He’s also got 11 assists giving him 42 points to date. The best any squad can hope for is to slow him down, limit his scoring chances, and get into his passing lanes. Minnesota’s top four scorers in the lineup tonight are; Koivu (8g, 25a), Jason Pominville (18g, 11a), Suter (2g, 24a), and Nino Niederreiter (7g, 13a). In three of their last four games the Wild have scored 4 or more goals. The problem has been that in two of those games they surrendered 5 and 6 goals. The game against the Sabres Minnesota played a complete game on offense, defense and, special teams.
This is a very winnable game for your Minnesota Wild. Home ice has been very good to the Wild this season and the players are a confident, stick to the game plan bunch in the “X”. Once again a quick start and scoring the first goal is critical for a Wild victory. I’ll even go as far as to predict that the team scoring the first goal tonight will win the game. A solid forecheck, winning special teams chances, and limiting turnovers are three areas the Wild must do to take the 2 points tonight. I’ll be back after the action with a recap and analysis of a Wild win. Until next time this is Scott Drain shrieking into the frigid January air, “LET’S GO WILD!!!!!”