Tonight the Minnesota Wild are in Texas to take on the Dallas Stars with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 pm Central Times. The Wild have had four days to practice and integrate some new faces into the line up before facing the Stars tonight. The Wild are looking to extend their win streak that stands at 5 games. Heading into this game Minnesota is in 4th place in the Central Division with 75 points, 5 points ahead of 5th place Dallas. This is a big road game for the Wild as they are holding the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with the Stars in the second Wild card position. Minnesota’s record against Dallas is 2-1 with the home team taking the victory in the first three meeting this season. Tonight is a special night in Dallas as the Stars are honoring Mike Modano by retiring his number 9 and raising it to the rafters. Modano started his career with the Minnesota North Stars and moved with the team to Dallas. The North Stars selected him #1 in the 1988 NHL Entery Draft and went on to play 1,459 NHL games with the North Stars, Dallas Stars, and Detroit RedWings accumulating 1,359 total points on 557 goals and 802 assists. He retired after the 2010-11 season. After his final game in the Excel Energy Center Modano returned to the ice wearing a North Stars sweater prompting a roaring, standing ovation from the crowd on hand. Throughout his career Mike Modano was one of the “good guys” in the NHL. The jersy retirement ceremony is at 6 pm CT and puck drop is slated for 7:30 CT. You can watch the game and ceremony on Fox Sports North (FS-N) and Fox Sports Southwest (FS-SW). The NHL Network (NHLN) will have the jersey ceremony carried nationally.
The Wild have added some new faces to the line up and that means some line juggling by Head Coach Mike Yeo. Minnesota added Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick to the lineup from Buffalo and sent Torrey Mitchell to the Sabres in return. Both Moulson and McCormick are expected to be in the lineup tonight. To date Moulson has 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points. McCormick has 1 goal and 4 assists, but scoring is not why he’s here. His 45 penalty minutes and 7 fights are. One thing Minnesota has been lacking is team toughness. All to often this season the Wild have been pushed around on the ice. With Zenon Konopka gone, Mike Rupp watching from the press box, Clayton Stoner has been the fight leader for the Wild with 7 bouts this season. McCormick is a fourth liner and I’d rather seem him in the penalty box for fighting than a defenseman.
The forward lines for tonight appear to be Zach Parise (21g, 18a) and Jason Pominville (22g, 20a) with Mikael Granlund (6g, 26a) on the top line. The second line has Matt Moulson (11g, 18a), Mikko Koivu (8g, 27a) and Charlie Coyle (6g, 13a). The third liners tonight are Nino Niederreiter (11g, 19a), Matt Cooke (9g, 15a) and center Kyle Brodziak (5g, 14a). Skating the fourth line is Dany Heatley(12g, 13a), Erik Haula (2g, 3a) and Cody McCormick (1g, 4a). These lines leave Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine as the healthy scratches. With the addition of Moulson to the second line the Wild’s top two lines are now a threat to score each time they step onto the ice. Currently lines one and two have totals of 64g and 104a. that’s 44% of the teams 146 total goals and 39% of the Wild’s 266 total assists. These numbers do not include Matt Moulson’s as he has no points with the Wild, but that is sure to change, probably tonight. The key to tonight’s game is for the Wild to exceed their per game scoring average of 2.36 goals. Minnesota allows an identical number of goals per game (2.36) while Dallas scores an average of 2.82 while allowing 2.73 goals per game. Simply put if the Wild can hold the Stars to 2 or fewer goals and capitalize on their own opportunities they should be able to take the 2 points tonight. With a win the Wild extend their lead to 7 points in the Wild Card race while a loss leaves them with just a 3 point and momentum on the Stars side.
Defensively tonight the pairing should remain the same as Monday. That means Ryan Suter (6g, 28a) skating with Jared Spurgeon (2g, 15a). Spurgeon has been hot lately with 5 points (1g, 4a) in five games since returning to action after suffering a broken foot. The second D-pair tonight is Jonas Brodin (8g, 8a) with Marco Scandella (3g, 13a). The third pair tonight is Keith Ballard with Clayton Stoner. That leaves Nate Prosser as the healthy scratch of the defensemen. The Wild defense will have their hands full with Dallas’ leading scorers in Tyler Seguin (28g, 35a), Jamie Benn (4g, 35a), Cody Eakin (13g, 16a), and Valeri Nichushkin. You can see from thees totals that after the top two the scoring drops off precipitously. The Stars have 5 players with 10 or more goals while the Wild have 8 with 10 or more.
In goal tonight will be Darcy Kuemper, as if there was any doubt, making his 17th start of the season. He has a goals against average of 2.19 and a save % at .924. Newly acquired Ilya Bryzgalov will be backing up Kuemper tonight and for most games through the rest of the season. Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom have both been shut down and are on IR for the rest of the season. The way Keumper is playing I’d be surprised if Bryzgalov gets more than 5 starts in the 20 games left in the regular season. Bryzgalov brings a record of 5-8-5, a goals against average of 3.01 and a save % at .908. He’s in Minnesota as an insurance policy in case Kuemper gets injured or needs a break. Bryzgalov is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and I don’t think he figures in the Wild long term plans at goaltender.
The Wild should be well rested and good to go tonight . They are coming off a nice 4 day break between games, a real rarity this late in the season. You can thank the MSHSL Boys Hockey Tournament for that. The break also allowed Moulson, McCormick and Brylgalov to get some practice time in with their new team for hitting the ice for a game. Simply put the Wild need to get out of the gate fast tonight and score the games first goal to gain and keep the momentum in their favor. When it comes to special teams the Wild need to capitalize on any power play chances they get. Minnesota’s power play is scoring at a 18.6% clip while they kill penalties at a 81.4% rate. The Stars power play has struggle scoring just 15.3% of the time while they kill penalties at a rate nearly identical to the Wild at 81.3%. The team that wins the special teams battle tonight will take the two points and momentum in the Western Conference Wild Card race. I won’t be back after tonight’s game as it’s my 17th wedding anniversary and I’m taking my wife out for dinner and then the Arcade Fire concert. Dakota or Ger will have your post game wrap and analysis of a Wild victory. I’ll be back Sunday with a preview of Wild vs Blues. Until then congratulations to Mike Modano on his jersey retirement and “LET’S GO Wild!!”