The Minnesota Wild are in the Music City to take on the Nashville Predators at 6:00 pm Central Time this evening. Both teams in this Central Division battle are coming off losses Saturday night. Nashville lost in a shootout with the Ottawa Senators by a 2-1 final score while your Minnesota Wild Had their four game win streak snapped by the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 in St. Paul. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo characterized the Predators as “desperate” in his post game press conference after the Wild’s loss to Colorado. Right now I’d say both of the teams are desperate. Minnesota is desperately trying to stay in playoff position while the Predator’s are desperately trying to climb above .500. Yeo is correct that his team must continue to look forward and not back. They also don’t have the luxury of looking ahead in the schedule as well. The Minnesota Wild have to play each game as though it’s game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. They are short top players on offense, defense and in goal; Forwards; Mikko Koivu (ankle) and Zach Parise (foot); Defenseman Jared Spurgeon (foot) and Goal Tender Josh Harding (Illness).
Those on IR have given other players their chance to show the stuff. Nate Prosser has played solid minutes with stay at home and abrasive, in your face style of play. When he’s on the ice the opposition knows it and will hear it. Jon Blum has been called up from the Iowa Wild to fill the roster spot created by Spurgeon’s absence. He skating hard, trying to make the decision difficult when Spurgeon returns of who to send down.
The following lines are what the Wild have gone with the last couple of games and I don’t expect much change tonight. Offensively the revamped top line has paid dividends with Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker developing some nice chemistry as we saw last game against Colorado. The second line also know as Grainioville consisting of Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville hase been clicking totaling 6 goals and 8 assists for 14 total points over the last 5 games. When Koivu and Parise return that line is definitely one you don’t want to break up. The third line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine has been one of the most consistent lines the Wild have had playing responsible defense and providing a steady physical forecheck. Oh Yeah, that Fontaine kid had the Wild’s first ever hat trick by a rookie a couple of games back. The fourth line of Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, and Stephane Veilleux have been a steady presence on the forecheck provided some offense but most of all have been charged with stopping the oppositions top lines by forechecking relentlessly and providing plenty of body on body contact.
Unless Head Coach Mike Yeo decides Keith Ballard is in need of some playing time I expect the D-pairs to remain the same as last night. Ryan Suter with Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella skating along side the abrasive Nate Prosser and the previously mentioned Jon Blum with Clayton Stoner. This is the group that will have to stop the Predators big guns including Mike Fisher (12g, 12a), Craig Smith (13g, 14a), and Shea Weber (10g, 19a)
Neither the Wild nor Predators exactly light up the scoreboard averaging 2.30 and 2.37 goals per game respectively. When it comes to goals allowed Nashville is nearly a half a goal worse allowing 2.87 goals a game on average to Minnesota’s 2.45. Special teams are another couple of areas the Wild are going to have to out play the Predators in order to take the two points tonight. The Nashville power play converts at a 20% rate just a bit higher than the Wild’s 19.6%. Both teams power play is ranked in the top 10 in the league. The penalty kill rates are separated by 10 spots in the rankings with the Wild’s 79.6% good for 24th in the league compared to Nashville’s 14th ranked 81.8%. The bottom line tonight is who will be able to draw more penalties AND actually convert on those man-advantage chances.
At this time is looks like Darcy Kuemper will get the start in net for the Wild. He was spectacular in goal against the L.A. Kings making 39 saves on 40 shots and stopping all 4 Kings shooters in the shootout to secure the much needed second point for the Wild. His record on the season is 1-1-0 with a goals against average of 3.39 and dropping a save % of .875 and increasing.
Tonight the Minnesota Wild are going to have to come out and be the hungrier more desperate team if they want to take the two points in this divisional matchup that has the season series split a one win apiece. I’ll be back after the game with a full wrap up and analysis of the night’s desperate action. Until then this is Scott Drain desperately shrieking, “LET’S GO WILD!!!”