It’s the 8th Annual Hockey Day In Minnesota with Elk River hosting the festivities. The Minnesota Wild look to run their winning streak to three games as they host the Dallas Stars at the Xcel Energy Center Saturday night with puck drop slated for 8 pm Central Time. This is the first game of a home and home series with the Stars, game two is at Dallas Tuesday night. With two games against this Central Division foe the Wild have a chance to put some more space between themselves and the 5th place Stars. Minnesota enters the game with an overall record of 26-19-5 and a total of 57 points to Dallas’ 21-19-7 record and 49 point total. Currently the Stars are in a tie with the Nashville Predators for 5th place in the Central with 7th place Winnipeg Jets, also known as Thrashers light, just 2 points back. A win tonight will give the Wild a 10 point lead over the Stars. In other Central Division games Saturday the outcome of the Colorado vs Nashville and Edmonton vs Winnipeg games could give the Wild leads of 10 and 12 points over the 5th through 7th place teams in the Division. That’s a look below and behind the Wild. A win tonight plus a Colorado loss puts Minnesota just 6 points behind the Avalanche for third in the Central. Catching the Av’s is a real possibility for the Wild. The Blues and Blackhawks are running away with the top two spots in the division and I highly doubt Colorado or Minnesota have a chance of catching either of them. But I digress. Back to Stars vs Wild round 2.
Tonight is the second of 4 meetings between the new divisional rivals this season and it’s only fitting that Minnesota’s former NHL franchise is the Wild’s opponent on the 8th Annual Hockey Day in Minnesota. Last season the Wild took the season series by a 2-1 margin and they won the first meeting this season by a score of 5-1 back on October 12th. Right now the Wild are scoring goals. They’ve scored a total of 24 in 8 games this month, raising their goals per game average to 2.32 still the 5th lowest average in the league. Dallas enters the game averaging 2.79 but when it comes to goals allowed the numbers are reversed with Minnesota giving up an average of just 2.38 the 8th lowest league average while the Stars give up 3.00 goals a game ranking them 26th overall. The Wild ended 2013 on a 6 game losing streak but have rebounded nicely in the new year going 6-2-0. Dallas on the other hand has struggled this month stumbling to a record of 1-7-0. This won’t be an easy win for the Wild as there are few things more dangerous than a desperate team and the Stars would love to steal the Hockey Day spotlight. All time the Wild are 16-23-8 against the Stars but have a winning record, 12-9-2, on home ice.
While Minnesota has been playing well recently they are hedging their bet tonight going with the hot hand in goal. Darcy Kuemper is 3-1 in four starts since being called up and is 3-2-0 overall with a goals against average of 2.17 and a save percentage of .917. The 6’5″, 205 lb. 23 year old net minder has been making the most of his opportunity with the NHL club while Josh Harding is on IR dealing with medication issues pertaining to his multiple sclerosis (MS). Harding is back to practicing with the team and when he returns Kuemper will be headed back to Des Moines and the Iowa Wild of the AHL. Kuemper has been play with a confidence and poise beyond his years. After a couple of rough outings with Minnesota earlier in the season he went back to Des Moines worked hard on his game, made some adjustments and came back to St. Paul in January looking like a different goalie. Tonight will be his first game against the Dallas Stars in his young career.
The Forward lines for tonight should be the same as last game and that’s good news as there seems to be some good chemistry developing among them. The top line of Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker has been fantastic lately putting up goals and assists at a nice pace. It’s good to see Heater find a home on a line AND PRODUCE! The second line of the 21-year olds is also humming right along with Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. The third line has been one of the team’s most consistent with Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. The fourth liners today are Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula and Stephane Veilleux. Goal wise the Wild are led by Pominville-19, Parise-15, and Fontaine-12. Then there are the scoring by committee players. Brodin, Coyle, Heatley, Cooke, Niederreiter, and Koivu all have 6 or more goals. Point wise the Wild have 7 players with 20 or more points and another 4 with 15 to 19. The 24-goals in 8 games this month have been spread out over a number of players again showing that all the lines are producing giving opponents problems defensively as they can’t focus on just one line with their top defenders.
Defensively the Wild will have the same pairs on the ice as Thursday with Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin leading the way. Next we have Marco Scandella and the Honorary King of Hockey Day, Elk River, Minnesota’s own Nate Prosser. He’s sure to be extra fired up tonight ans should be at his irritating, chirping, hard hitting best against the Stars. the final pair is Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard. Dallas is led by Tyler Seguin (21g, 23a) and Jamie Benn (17g, 23a) after those two the scoring totals drop off precipitously with only two other players, Cody Eakin and Erik Cole with more than 10 goals. The Wild defense is going to have to continue to make clean, accurate, first passes out of the defensive zone to jump start the offense and minimize Dallas’ time with the puck.
To cap off the 8th Annual Hockey Day in Minnesota with a victory the Wild are going to have to use the same recipe that has worked deliciously as of late. 1. Score first. 2. Control the puck. 3.Stay out of the penalty box. 4.Put the biscuit at the basket. 5.Limit opposition shots. 6.Mix 1-5 well and top off with a hot goalie. This is another very winnable game for the Wild and they need these points and the two available in Dallas on Tuesday. Once the Wild are done with Dallas the schedule gets tough with four games against some of the best teams in the league, Chicago, San Jose, Anaheim, and Colorado. The Wild need every point they can get and that makes tonight’s opportunity all the more important. I’ll be back after the game with a full recap, analysis and a bit of opinion. Until then, Enjoy Hockey Day in Minnesota and this is Scott Drain calling out, “Let’s Go Wild!!”