The Minnesota Wild put their 3 game win streak on the line tonight as they face the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena with puck drop scheduled for 9 pm Central Time. The Wild are in alone in 4th place in the Central Division with 51 points on a overall record of 23-17-5 and 7-12-3 road mark this season. The Wild have a chance tonight to run their streak to a season’s best 4th straight win in regulation. The team did have a four game streak back in November from the 9th to the 17th that included two shootout victories. Tonight is the second of three games with the Coyotes this season with Phoenix taking the first meeting by a 3-1 score at the Xcel Energy Center. Phoenix and Minnesota are currently tied in points for the final Wild Card playoff spot in the Western Conference, but if the season ended today Phoenix would get the nod based on number of games played 42 to 45. The Coyotes have won two straight contests and have picked up points in 7 of their last 10 games.
The forward lines tonight will be pretty much the same as Tuesday. With Parise and Koivu still out of action the top line will feature Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker while the 2nd line will have the nreunited trio of Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Third liners tonight are Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine while the fourth line has Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, and Stephane Veilleux. These line looked good last game against the L.A. Kings any Coacu Yeo is staying with the combinations that brought the win on Tuesday. This is a different Coyotes team than in years past. They are scoring and winning, currently averaging 2.98 goals a game, ranking them 6th overall in the NHL. They give up an average of 2.93 goals a game which raks considerably lower at 22nd in the league. This compares with the Wild’s 2.27 goals for (27th) and 2.44 goals against (10th). When it comes to games on home ice the Coyotes are 12-5-3, a formidable opponent for the Wild who have struggled, to put it nicely, on the road with just 7 wins in 17 road contests this season.
Defensively the Wild will go with the same pairs that held the Kings to a single goal in their last outing with one exception. Jonathon Blum will make his debut tonight on the third D-pair, he’ll be skating with Marco Scandella. Ryan Suter is paired with Jonas Brodin on the top pair, with Nate Prosser skating with Clayton Stoner on the 2nd unit. Prosser with Stoner is a rather abrasive combination for opposing teams as both Wild players have the ability to get under the oppositions skin and the physical prowess to back up any chirping, pushing and shoving that may result. With Zenon Konopka now with Buffalo and Mike Rupp a scratch, Stoner and Prosser will be called upon to come to the defense of Minnesota players the Coyotes may try and take liberties with. Phoenix’s Paul Bissonnette would be the prime offender in that category. The Wild are going to have to limit the ‘Yotes shots on goal. Phoenix ranks is the top 4 in the NHL with an average of 32.4 shots on goal per game. The Wild are going to need crisp, clean passes out of the defensive zone and put Phoenix back on their heels forcing them to reset offensively rather than being able to cycle the puck and take repeated shots at Wild net minder Backstrom.
Speaking of goal tenders Niklas Backstrom will get the start in net tonight. He sat out the last game with what the team termed “abdominal soreness” allowing Darcy Kuemper to get his first start in the NHL this season. Kuemper performed in spectacular fashion making 39 saves on 40 shots in regulation and OT then stopping all four L.A. shooters in the shootout in route to the 3rd straight victory for the Wild. Backstrom brings a record of 4-9-2 a goals against average of 3.15 and a .896 save % into the matchup with the Kings. Across the ice will be Phoenix’s top net minder Mike Smith who has a record of 15-10-8 a save percentage at .911 to go with a goals against of 2.89.
The Wild have been finding ways to win without some of their top players in the lineup. They are missing key personnel in all areas Parise and Koivu on offense, Jared Spurgeon on defense and Josh Harding in goal yet the team has stepped up and won three straight contests, c;imbing back into playoff contention. Last game there were 8 players on the ice who were 23 years old or younger. It’s step up time. Across the board players have wanted the opportunity to show what they can bring to the table and that time is now. The Wild have a talented group of youngsters and not so young role players. Phoenix has one of the best teams they have had in years and that presents a challenge to a Minnesota squad that has struggled away from the Xcel Energy Center this year. the Wild can run their win streak to 4 straight games with a win tonight an move to within 5 points of the Colorado Avalanche who hold 3rd place in the Central Division. Minnesota is going to have to limit the Coyotes shot attempts and time in the defensive zone. The first goal is going to be huge in this game with the team scoring it and generating the momentum from it likely to take the two points tonight. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and analysis of the night’s action. This is a very winnable game for the Wild against an opponent they match up well against. Until next time this is Scott Drain howling,“LET’S GO WILD!!!”