The Minnesota Wild are in sunny, warm California taking on the San Jose Sharks tonight with puck drop scheduled for 9:30 pm Central Time. The is a matchup between two hot teams in the Western Conference over their last ten games both teams are 7-3-0. The Wild are coming off a big win over the Chicago Blackhawks while the Sharks have won 5 straight games. Minnesota hasn’t fared to well at the SAP Center losing there earlier this season by a 3-1 score back on December 12th. They also haven’t beaten the Sharks in San Jose since December 6th, 2011 their only victory in 9 trips to San Jose since 2009. Currently the Wild are in 4th place in the Central Division with 61 points on a record of 28-20-5, while the Sharks are in 2nd in the Pacific Division with 72 points and a record of 33-12-6.
Tonight Minnesota is going to have to do some of the same things they did in beating the Blackhawks. First off the must get a good start and opening period. If the Wild come out flat, slow and uninspired against the Sharks they can kiss this game goodbye early. San Jose score and average of 3.02 goals a game and this season they lead the NHL with 56 goals in the first period. Over 36% of the goals the Sharks score come in the opening frame and they have allowed just 27 goals against, outscoring opponents better than 2 to 1. The Wild have potted 36 goals in the 1st period, 30% of their total, while allowing 38. The 1st period is the Wild’s best defensive period, their word is the third where they have given up 44 of 126 goals allowed this season. So basically Minnesota needs to shut down the Sharks in the opening period while scoring the games first goals to have the best chance at picking up the victory and the two points.
The Wild are going with the hot hand in goal again tonight with Darcy Kuemper making another start in net. He was spectacular against the Blackhawks making 33 saves, 16 of which came in a frenzied third period. His record on the season is 5-3-0 with a 2.22 goals against and a .922 save %. It will be interesting to wee who the sharks trot out in net tonight. Their back up net minder, Alex Stalock of South St. Paul, Minnesota, has back to back shutouts and hasn’t allowed a goal in 140:59. He has a record off 7-2-0 with a GAA of 1.62 and a save % of .942 Antti Niemi, the regular goalie, has a record of 26-10-6 with a GAA at 2.38 and a .913 save %. Either way the Wild are going to have to put some substantial rubber on net to beat these guys.
The forward lines are going to be the same as last game for Minnesota. Zach Parise returned to the lineup and while he didn’t appear on the score sheet, his presence was definitely felt on the ice. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said of the Wild winger, “He’s a puck hound. He chases and pursues. He’s relentless, creates turnovers and you end having the puck more when he’s on the ice.” Last game the juggled lines performed will especially the third line consisting of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. Fontaine and Cooke teamed up for the game winning goal and that line plays tough minutes defensively matched up against other teams top lines.
Defensively the Wild will go with the same pairs as the last several games. Injured D-man Jared Spurgeon has resumed skating and it’s possible he could return to action at some point during this 4 game road trip. The Wild allow an average of 2.38 goals a game, the 6th best in the NHL. They are going to have to be below that average, in my opinion, to win tonight.
This is a chance for the Wild to see how they match up against another of the top teams in the Western Conference. While they have struggled on the road this year, the Wild have been playing better as of late and are 8-3-0 since January 1st. I’ll be back after the game, gonna be a late night tonight folks with that 9:30 pm Minnesota time puck drop, with a recap, analysis and opinion. Until then this is Scott Drain, shouting out, loud and proud, “LET’S GO WILD!!”