The Minnesota Wild take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the Xcel Energy Center whit puck drop at 7:00 pm Central Time. Minnesota is going for a season sweep against Edmonton, having taken the first 2 games and allowing at total of 1 goal in those two contests. This is also a milestone night for two Wild players. Matt Cooke is scheduled to play in his 100th career game and Zach Parise will be playing in his 600th. Love him or hate him Matt Cooke has proven to be durable and talented enough to stay in the NHL since the 1998-99 season. He has scored 162 goals and added 222 assists for a total of 384 total points. Add to that a +61 rating for his career and 1,120 penalty minutes. Cooke is the type of player that teammates love and opponents hate and the same goes for fans with loud cheers on home ice and boo’s and cat calls on the road. Cooke is just the fourth Minnesota Wild player to reach the 1000 game mark while with the team. He joins Andrew Brunette, Keith Carney, and Matt Cullen as a member of that exclusive club of Wild players. Zach Parise joined the league in the 2005-06 season playing 81 games and playing nearly every game since with the exception of the 2010-11 season. That year he played on 13 games due to injury and surgery. In his career Parise has totaled 233 goals and 255 assists for 488 points to go with a career +64 rating, just 217 penalty minutes and 69 power play goals. Parise is one of the “good guys” in the NHL, he doesn’t have a huge ego, truly enjoys his fans attention and is a great ambassador for the game of hockey.
The Wild enter play tonight with a record of 34-22-8 and are 22-7-3 on home ice. Minnesota’s chances of catching the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division pretty close to zero with 18 games remaining and a 13 point deficit to make up. The Wild are currently the top team in the Western Conference Wild Card race but have a Dallas Stars team just four points behind them in the second Wild card spot. Phoenix is just a point behind Dallas as the Wild Card race is heating up. The Oilers are the worst team in the NHL this season with an overall record of 22-35-8 and a total of just 52 points. On the road the Oilers are just 10-19-5. The Oilers actually average 2.46 goals per game , a bit higher than the Wild’s 2.36. The difference comes in goals allowed with Minnesota giving up an average of 2.38 to the Oilers 3.23 goals per game. On special teams the Wild’s power play percentage is at 18.5% compared to the Oiler’s 16.7%. The Edmonton penalty kill stops opponents 81.9 % time a bit better than Minnesota’s 80.5% A couple of keys to the game for the Wild are staying out of the penalty box and converting 5 on 5 opportunities. Puck control is going to be a big factor tonight. While the Oilers have some big name players in Taylor Hall (22g, 39a), Jordan Eberle (20g, 28a), David Perron (23g, 22a), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (15g, 28a) they play poorly as a team with players preferring to free lance all over the ice seemingly trying to pad their own stats rather than looking out for the collective good of the team.
In goal for the Wild tonight will be Darcy Kuemper who has played exceptionally well against the Oilers this season. In the two victories he has compiled a .976 save % and an impressive .50 goals against average. Overall Kuemper has a record of 11-4-2, a save % of .922 and a goals against average at 2.29. As long as Kuemper gets some goal support from his teammates and sound defensive play in front of him the rest will be handled by the rookie net minder. At the other end of the ice will be Viktor Fasth who was acquired via trade from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline. Fasth brings a record of 2-2-1, a save % of .885 and a goals against average of 2.95 into tonight’s game, his first as a member of the Oilers. Fasth has not played a game since November 18th and could well b e a bit rusty, something the Wild should exploit early in tonight’s game.
The forward lines for Minnesota will look pretty much the same as last game with Zach Parise (21g, 19a) and Jason Pominville (23g, 20a) centered by Mikael Granlund (6g, 26a). The second line one again has Mikko Koivu (8G, 19a) at center between wings Matt Moulson (18g ,22a) and Charlie Coyle (7g, 13a). Nino Niederreiter (11g, 20a) and Matt Cooke (9g, 15a) skate with Kyle Brodziak (6g, 14a) while the fourth liners are Erik Haula (3g, 3a) centering Dany Heatley (12g, 13a) and Cody McCormick (1g, 4a). These lines looked very solid against a juggernaut of a Blues team the Wild faced on Sunday. The Wild need to score the games first goal tonight, making the Oilers play from behind and take chances Minnesota can turn into turnovers and scoring opportunities. Edmonton has basically 4 scoring threats in Hall, Perron, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. beyond those four the talent level drops off in a hurry. Defensively the Wild need to shut that group down and force the Oilers to get out of their comfort zone looking for scoring from secondary sources.
The defesive pairs for the Wild tonight will be the same as last game with Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon the top pair. Pair two tonight is Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella while the third pair will be Nate Prosser and Keith Ballard. These are the players who need to force the Oilers top four in passing rather than shooting. If the Minnesota defense as a whole can keep the Edmonton shooters to take their shots from the perimeter, whether it’s at full strength of on the power play, it will take a lot of pressure off of goal tender Kuemper.
The Minnesota Wild are going to have to come into this game focused on the task at hand. They cannot afford to look past this Edmonton team no matter how bad or far down in the standings they may be. A win tonight by the Wild keeps of extends or maintains their lead in the Wild Card race as both the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars are in action tonight. At this point in the regular season the Wild need to be more concerned with the teams chasing them rather than catching the teams ahead of them. The Wild trail Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis by 13, 14, and 18 points respectively. The four teams closest to the Wild in the Wild Card race, Dallas, Phoenix, Winnipeg and Vancouver are just 4,5,8, and 8 points behind an closing. I’ll be back after the game with a recap of the night’s action along with some analysis and opinion. Until nest time this is Scott Drain yelling at the top of my lungs, “Let’s Go Wild!!”