The Minnesota Wild are in Denver for a Thursday night battle with the Colorado Avalanche. Game time is 8pm Central Time and you can watch the action on Fox Sports North (FSN) or Altitude (Alt). The Wild have been playing well, make that great, on this road trip and the game leading into it. They’ve taken 5 of 6 possible points against the Blackhawks, Sharks, and Ducks; three of the top five teams in the NHL. The most impressive performance was handing Anaheim just their second regulation loss of the season at the Honda Center by a 4-2 final score. The boys from Saint Paul just need to keep their foot on the gas and run over any team in their path. Tonight is a four point game for the Wild. Currently Minnesota trails the Av’s by 7 points in the tough Central Division, a win tonight and they close to with in 5, lose and they drop to nine back. Both teams have been hot this month posting identical 9-3-1 records. Catching the Avalanche is a very reasonable goal for Minnesota, catching St. Louis or Chicago not so much. I’m not going to even try to get into playoff scenarios at this point. Shot term goal is BEAT THE AVALANCHE!
Once again Darcy Kuemper will be in net for the Wild. The rookie is piling up starts, wins, and garnering accolades from around the internet, fantasy hockey fans, and fans in general. The kid has compiled a 6-3-1 record, a 2.26 goals against average and an impressive .942 save %. He doesn’t seem to get rattled on the ice, fears no player/team, and is relishing this opportunity to play in the show. Kuemper is even the featured player this week on NHL.com in their In The Cage article to check it out click here. Across the ice will be either alleged domestic abuser Semyon Varlamov or J.S. Giguere. Varlamov has a 29-9-5 record with a GAA of 2.43 and a .925 save %. Giguere has marks of 7-4-0, a GAA of 2.59 and a save % at .913. Kuempers GAA and save % give him the edge heading into tonight’s action in my opinion. Yeah, I’m a bit of a Wild fan, just a bit.
The forward lines aren’t going to change from Tuesday. That means Jason Zucker is once again a healthy scratch. I’ve got to think that Zucker is headed one of two places. The first is back to the Iowa Wild, the second is to another team via a trade. While still a young, developing player, Zucker has too much upside for the Wild to be dangling him out there as trade bait in my humble opinion. Moving to the line combos for tonight. Zach Parise is definitely back in game shape tallying a goal and two assists vs the Ducks with the goal being the game winner. He’ll be skating with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Line numero dos has Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville who leads the Wild in goals with 21 and points with 37. The third liners are once again Matt Cooke, who has been winning over a lot of Wild fans with his play this season and you can count me in with that group. I’ve gone from a high level of dislike (putting it politely) for Cooke to becoming a fan as I’ve gotten to know much more about him and his game. Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine round out the line that is most often tasked with shutting down opponents top lines but has been putting up good numbers this season. Cooke has 8 goals and 14 assists, Brodziak totals 4 goals and 12 helpers while Fontaine leads Wild rookies with 12 goals and 6 assits. The fourth line once again has Mike Rupp in the lineup for some size and toughness along with speedy Torrey Mitchell and Erik Haula.
Defensively there was some good news today as Jared Spurgeon fully participated int he morning skate, his first since the 2nd of this month. He won’t be playing tonight but is anticipated to be in the lineup come Saturday in Calgary. Yahoo, the Wilds D-man has been out with a foot injury and his puck moving skills and great first passes out of the defensive zone have been sorely missed by the Wild. The pairs for tonight are Ryan Suter with Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella with Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner skating with Keith Ballard. Prosser has been making the most of his opportunity to play regularly with Spurgeon out of the lineup and Head Coach Mike Yeo will have some tough decisions to make when The Spurge returns. The Minnesota defense will have to try and shut down the Av’s offense that averages 2.88 goals a game to the Wild’s 2.31. On the flip side the Wild only surrender an average of 2.38 goals a night to Colorados’s 2.58.
The Wild are once again going to need a great start to a road game, putting pressure on early and scoring the games first goal. The Wild have gone 1-2-1 in four meetings with Colorado this season and can’t afford to let this chance slip away. In their last 18 trips to Colorado the Wild are 12-2-3 and are 1-0-1 at the Pepsi Center this season. Minnesota has been good against the Western Conference this season with a record of 18-11-4 and marks of 11-8-1 against Central Division foes. Glad to be back in the Saddle for your per and post game coverage after missing Tuesday might in a medical facility that didn’t have FSN on the cable plan. Had to use a little clock radio to hear the game on KFAN 100.3. Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid are great to listen to and paint a beautiful picture with their call of the game. I’ll be back after the action with some analysis, reaction and recap of the Wild vs Avalanche. Until then this is Scott Drain calling out through the snow covered Minnesota landscape, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD!!”