The Minnesota Wild take on the Ottawa Senators tonight at 7 pm Central Time in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center in the first of a three game homestand. The Wild are coming off an impressive shutout victory over Nashville Sunday night and are looking to pick up a pair of points against another Eastern Conference foe. The Wild have won 5 of 6 games this month and are doing it without four of their veterans in the lineup Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jaared Spurgeon, and Josh Harding are all still out of action but Parise and Harding did skate today. Parise skated on his own before the teams morning skate and Harding took part in the morning skate but will not be in action in the near future. The Wild’s young players have been stepping up to fill the voids left by the rash of injuries and have been playing well. As of today Minnesota is 4th in the Central Division with 55 points and a record of 25-18-5. Tonight is the second and final meeting of the season between the Sens and Wild with Minnesota taking the first game in Ottawa back on November 20th by a 4-3 final.
One of the best of the young players has been goal tender Darcy Kuemper. Since his call up from Iowa he has won two games. The first was a 39 save performance against the L.A. Kings and the second was a shutout of the Nashville Predators. Since his call up Kuemper has put up a .948 save percentage and a .48 goals against average. His shutout earned him a second consecutive start in goal for a Wild team that has been playing very well in front of him. At the other end of the ice tonight will be Craig Anderson who brings a record of 15-9-5, a goals against average of 3.10 and a save % of .905 into tonight’s game. The Senators have bee playing well as of late going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. They are currently in 6th place in the Atlantic Conference with 48 points on an overall record of 20-18-8.
The forward lines for this evening will be the same as last game. The hot top line of Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker has been playing well and developing some good chemistry. Coyle has 2 goals and two assists while Heatley has 1 goal and 3 assists over the last two games. The second line features Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville. This line has scored a total of 30 goals in 48 games this season. The third line has Justin Fontaine, Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak while the fourth line consist of Torrey Mitchell, Stephane Veilleux and Erik Haula. These lines have been consistent over the last few games and that familiarity is showing results as the Wild have out scored opponents 20-10 in winning 5 of 6 game since the 1st of the year. 10 different players have scored in those 6 games including career first hat tricks by Justin Fontaine and Ryan Suter. Tonight the Wild are going to have to continue that trend of scoring by committee to beat a Senators team that has been playing better as of late. It’s been good to see the Minnesota players step up and take over games with 4 of their top player on the sidelines.
Defensively the pairs will be the same once again with Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella with Nate Prosser and Jon Blum paired with Clayton Stoner. The Wild defenders will have their hands full tonight with top Ottawa scorers Erik Karlsson (10G, 31A), Bobby Ryan (18g, 19a), Kyle Turris (12g, 22a) and Clarke MacArthur (15g, 18a) The Wild have been playing solid team defense and while not limiting shots as they did earlier in the season they are limiting opponents scoring chances and keeping more shots to the perimeter. The Senators average 2.80 goals per game while giving up an average of just over 3 per outing. The Wild penalty killers, who have stopped 20 0f 22 chances in the last several games, will need to shut down the Ottawa power play that converts at an 18.4% rate. The Wild PK is tied with Ottawa’s at 79.9%, not exactly a penalty kill rate that you’d brag about. They are tied for 22nd in the league, so the Wild need to limit their trip to the penalty box tonight.
Overall this is a very winnable game for the Wild against an average opponent from the Eastern Conference. As long as the goal tending and defense stay strong the offense whould be able to put a few in the back of the net this evening. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and analysis of the night’s action. Until then this is Scott Drain confidently shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”