The Minnesota Wild are in Edmonton tonight to face the Oilers in their first game back after the Olympic break. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:30 pm Central Time, not too late a start for NHL hockey hungry fans in and around Minnesota! Minnesota has 23 games left in the season and are ready to start their playoff push in earnest. This is the second of three meeting between the former divisional rivals this season with Minnesota taking the first by a 4-1 final back on January 16th. Entering tonight the Wild are 31-21-7, 4th in the Central division and 7th in the Western Conference. Minnesota has 69 points and are just a point back of the LA Kings for 6th in the conference race but trail the Colorado Avalanche by 10 points for third in the Central Division. That’s enough on the standings, simply put the Wild need to win tonight. They are playing in an arena where they have more road wins than any other NHL arena. Minnesota is 18-12-7 all time in Rexall Place. In 74 meeting with the Oilers the Wild have a record of 42-23-9, their most wins against any NHL team. The Wild need two points tonight, anything less is a failure.
The Olympic break allowed the Wild to address some of their injury issues but not all. Captain Mikko Koivu is very close to returning but will not be in action this evening. Tonight is the first of back to back games and Minnesota takes on the “beloved” Vancouver Canucks Friday night in Vancouver. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is as anxious as anyone to get Koivu back in the lineup but says, he’s just not ready yet. The Wild will also be missing Marco Scandella and Jason Zucker tonight. Scandella is still out of action after suffering a knee sprain on February 4th and Zucker is on IR after undergoing a procedure during the break. Their absence from the lineup means Stephane Veilleux and Steven Kampfer are up from Iowa. Goalie Niklas Backstrom has been experiencing some soreness so John Curry has been called up to back up Darcy Kuemper if necessary. Minnesota has all four Olympians back and Zach Parise, Ryan Suterm Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund returned from the Winter Olympics healthy and ready to play.
The forward lines for tonight appear to have Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville skating on the top line. The second line consists of Dany Heatley Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine while the third liners are Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. The fourth line has some speed to it with Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula and Stephane Veilleux.
Defensively the Wild are looking good with Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon leading the way. The second pairing is Jonas Brodin and Nate Prosser with Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard the third set. They will have their hands full with an Olier’s lineup that can score some goals. Taylor Hall leads the way with 20 goals and 56 points for Edmonton. Next are Jordan Eberle with 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 15 goals and 28 helpers for 43 points on the season. While Edmonton can score they give up a lot of goals, specifically a league worst average of 3.28 per game. That compares to the Wild’s 2.42 goals against per game average.
In goal for Minnesota will be Darcy Kuemper making his 13th start. The Wild’s rookie goal tending sensation has compiled a record of 8-3-2, with a goals against average of 2.46 and a save percentage of .917. If he can get some goal support from his teammates tonight he should be able to put another notch in his belt with his 9th win. To beat the Oilers the Wild will need to score at least 4 goals total and keep the opposition to 2 or less. Edmonton enters tonight’s game with a record of 20-33-7 overall and are just 10-14-2 on home ice.
The Minnesota Wild have a golden opportunity to start the sprint toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a victory over the worst team in not only the Pacific Division but the entire Western Conference. Minnesota needs to play an efficient clean game tonight. The need to stay out of the penalty box and press the pace of the game while maintaining puck control. Minnesota needs to focus on getting the two points tonight and worry about the Canucks tomorrow. This isn’t a must win game tonight, ALL 23 games for the rest of the regular season are must win games for the Wild. Catching the Avalanche is a possibility in the Central but it’s going to take a nice run these last few weeks of the season. Everyone should be ready to go tonight and fired up to get back to work as the Minnesota Wild. I’ll be back after the game with some opinion, recap and analysis of the night’s activity. Until then this is Scott Drain once again shouting out through the frigid Minnesota winter, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD!!”