The Minnesota Wild wrap up a tough 4 game road trip in Calgary tonight against the Flames on Hockey Night In Canada. Puck drop is 9 pm Central Time so it’s gonna be another late night for Wild fans back home in the Minnesota. I for one sure don’t miss the days of the Northwest Division and the large number of Pacific time zone games. So far the Wild are 1-1-1 on the trip and really need two points tonight. Including this evening’s tilt at the Saddledome there are just 3 games left before the 20 day Olympic break. The last time these teams met was back on November 5th in St. Paul with Minnesota taking a decisive victory 5-1. The Wild are still holding steady in 4th place in the Central Division with 64 points, 6 ahead of Nashville and 9 points back of the Colorado Avalanche. Minnesota is a point ahead of our beloved Vancouver Canucks for the 1st Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Simply put the Wild need to skate into action tonight and put a decisive beating on the Flames, take the two points and head back to St. Paul heads held high. They just finished the best January in team history with 9 victories and a total of 19 points. The push for the playoffs starts NOW. I still say catching and passing the Av’s is a reasonable goal for this team, especially when they get Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon (coming soon), and Josh Harding back in the lineup. Minnesota played most of the month without Zach Parise and the previously mentioned three other veterans and still played some great hockey, not every night but enough to remain competitive in the tough Central Division.
Calgary has struggled this season, to put it nicely, totaling just 47 points on a record of 20-27-7. Their home record is 11-14-3 opposed to Minnesota’s road record of 10-14-4. The Flames have been hot at home recently, winning the first 4 of a five game home stand. The Wild should put and end to that tonight. Prior to those wins the Flames posted a rather poor showing of 7-14-3 on home ice. Minnesota and Calgary are both 5-4-1 over their last 10 games, but the Wild are playing some of their best road hockey of the season right now. While they lost last game vs the Avalanche the Wild did have a line that was lights out in the third period. That combination of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund will definitely be skating together tonight after totaling 8 points in the third period on 3 goals and 5 assists. That was a beautiful thing to watch and I sure hope that magic continues tonight. That is Minnesota’s top line. The second line tonight appears to be the reunited trio of Dany Heatley with Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker. Yes folks, Zucker is returning to the lineup. He’s been a denizen of the press box the last three games as a healthy scratch much to the dismay and vocal consternation of his fans. a variety of theories abound as to the reason for his removal from the lineup. Mike Rupp was inserted in his place on the fourth line to add some size and toughness according to Coach Yeo. What ever the reason the second line tonight will be looking to regain the chemistry that produced well earlier in the season. The third liners are Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. This has been one of the most consistent lines for the Wild this season, but they had a horrible game last outing vs Colorado. I think this trio will bounce back well tonight as they shut down the Flames top line while adding some offense to the mix. The fourth line is also a bit different tonight as Torrey Mitchell appears to be a Healthy scratch, his first of the season. Coach Yeo has said his play has not been where they want it as of late. Maybe a night in the press box will show him the error of his ways. That means Mike Rupp is in the lineup skating with a pair of speedsters in Justin Fonatine, who still leads all Minnesota rookies in goals with 12, and Erik Haula. This trio has a total of 18 goals and 9 assists so far this season, two thirds of that production is Fontaine’s.
Defensively the pairs will be the same as last game. Jared Spurgeon is close to returning but not tonight. He did participate in a full contact practice yesterday and the morning skate today. My guess is he returns against the Tampa Bay Lighting Bugs on Tuesday the 4th. That makes the pairs for tonight Ryan Suter tieh Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella skates along side Nate Prosser. Prosser has been playing the best hockey of the season during Spurgeons absence. He adds a gritty, chirping element to the Wild and even dropped the glove and pummeled Jamie McGinn of the Avalanche last game. He also shown he can score with a pair of game winning goals in this span of games. The final pairing is Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Stoner also fought against Colorado taking on heavy weight Cody McLeod and staggering the tough guy with a couple of bombs that made McLeod just hang on, stop punching, and go for the take down. While I like the toughness I’d rather see the likes of Mike Rupp do the pummeling and keep our defensemen on the ice. Stoner and Prosser have obviously been working on their fighting skills on and off the ice, I just don’t want other teams taking a top 4 D-man out of action at a critical juncture of a game.
In Net tonight for the Wild will be, drum roll please, Darcy Kuemper. Despite giving up 4 goals and getting the hook last game. A mercy pull because the Wild played a putrid second period. The Wild’s super rookie has a record of 6-3-1, a goals against average at 2.51 and a save % of .917. Mentally this kid is beyond his years for a goalie. Nothing seems to rattle him and he puts forth a 110% effort each time out. He’s willing to do whatever the Coaches want, never complains, always has a smile off the ice, and is relishing playing in The Show. The Flames average scoring just 2.30 goals game and surrender 3.09.
Keumper and the defense are going to have to hold the Flames to less than 3 goals tonight while the offense needs to pot at least four and the all important, first goal of the game. Minnesota is going to have to control the puck, stay out of the penalty box, and shoot every chance they get. The Flames are led by Jiri Hudler who’s totaled 42 points on 14 goals and 28 assists this season. Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund with 26 and 25 points respectively. This is a very winnable game for the Wild and that will just build the momentum as Minnesota returns to the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for two game leading into the Olympic break next Tuesday and Thursday against Tampa Bay and Nashville.
I’ll be back after the action, late tonight or in the early hours of Sunday morning with reaction, recap, opinion and more. Until then this is Scott Drain, standing tall and shouting loud, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD!!”