Tonight the Minnesota Wild take on the Anaheim Ducks, the top team in the Western Conference. Puck drop is scheduled for 9 pm Central Time, another late night for Wild fans east of the Rocky mountains. Currently the Wild are in 4th place in the Central Division on a record of 28-20-6 good for 62 points. The Ducks are a machine this season going 39-10-5, totaling 83 points. The Wild are going to have their work cut out for them on the road at the Honda Center. Anaheim is 21-1-2 on home ice this season. We’re in late January and the Ducks have lost just once in regulation on home ice. ONCE. The Minnesota Wild are going to have to play a great road game tonight, not good, great. They will have to play 3 full periods. Last game vs San Jose they played a great 1st period a pretty good second period, a third period they spent running around chasing the puck getting out shot 17-2, then losing in OT. That kind of effort/game won’t cut it against the Ducks. The Ducks like to score early in games with 71% of their 180 total goals coming in the first and second periods. The Wild meanwhile do best in the third period with 38% or 46 of their total 123 goals coming in the final frame. Not a whole lot more than the first and second periods where they’ve scored 30% (37 g) and 32% (39 g) respectively.
Tonight it’s going to come down to who can get a lead and force the other team to chase and get away from their game plan. The Wild are going to have to do three main things to beat the Ducks. 1) Score early and first. 2)Win the battle of special teams, staying out of the penalty box and scoring on the power play. Minnesota is 0/21 since their last PP goal. 3) Limit the Ducks shots and chances by controlling the puck. If they fail to do any of these kiss a point or two goodbye. Minnesota has played Anaheim tough this season losing the first two meeting by a goal each time including on OT loss back in the second game of the season on October 5th and a 2-1 final in Anaheim on December 11th. Tonight’s game could hinge on a single mistake by either team. Once again in net tonight will be super rookie Darcy Kuemper. He enter tonight with a record of 5-3-1, a goals against average of 2.29 and a save % of .922. The kid is playing great in the absence of Josh Harding and sub par performances by now back up Niklas Backstrom. Kuemper never seems to get rattled or intimidated on the ice, is willing to do whatever it takes for the Wild to get a victory and has a constant smile on his face off the ice. He’s livin’ the dream and he knows it.
The forward lines for tonight will be the same as Saturday with the possible exception of Zucker returning to the 4th line. If Zucker is scratched Mike Rupp will play his second game in a row. Rupp definitely brings a more physical presence to the game than Zucker does. It is a bit curious that Zucker could be scratched against and I’m not sure if it’s a possible injury issue, an issue of work ethic, or he’s in Yeo’s dog house. The top line remains Zach Parise, Charlie Coye and Nino Niederreiter. Line two = Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund and the Wild’s leading goal scorer with 20 to date, Jason Pominville. The third liners are Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. As previously mentioned the 4th line will have Rupp or Zucker with Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell.
Defensively the pairs will be the same as Saturday. The top pairing continues to be Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, with Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser on pair #2. The third pair is Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard. The D-men will have their hands full as they try to slow down a Ducks offense that averages 3.33 goals a game, the third highest rate in the NHL. This is a big game on a big road trip for the Wild. After tonight they travel to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche and then the lowly but dangerous Calgary Flames. Minnesota needs to play like there is no tomorrow against the Ducks. Anaheim is very, very good but not unbeatable. The Wild have been 1 shot away from winning both meetings this season against Anaheim. Maybe tonight is the night they break through and shoot some ducks. Due to medical reasons I won’t be doing the post game piece tonight (or Wednesday morning as this is a late game in MN). Dakota of Ger will have that coverage for you. I will be back on Thursday morning with a preview of Wild vs Avalanche. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting out, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD!!” 3.33 goals for 2.33 goals against