The Minnesota Wild take on the New York Rangers tonight at 7 pm at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have 17 games left in the regular season and this is one of 9 games they have left against foes in the Easter Conference. Minnesota is on a three game losing streak after falling to the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night. The Rangers come into this game off a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. This is the second meeting of the season between the Wild and Rangers with the New York squad taking the victory back on December 22nd by a 4-1 final score. Minnesota comes into tonight’s action with an overall record of 34-22-9 and marks of 22-7-4 on home ice. Their 77 points are good for 4th in the Central Division just 3 points ahead of the Dallas Stars in the race for the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild trail 3rd place Chicago by 13 points, the Colorado Avalanche are now in 2nd place a point ahead of the Blackhawks in the Central after beating them Wednesday night. The St. Louis Blues are still tops in the Central with 95 points. New York currently holds second place in the Metropolitan Division with 74 points on a record of 35-27-4, 18 points back of the division leading Pittsburgh Penguins and just a point ahead of both Columbus and Philadelphia.
The Wild are desperately trying to hold on in a tight Wild Card race with 4 teams within 7 points of the top Wild card spot currently held by the Wild. Tonight Minnesota needs to do three things to take the win and the two points. The first is win the special teams battle. The Wild need to stay out of the penalty box and score at least 1 power play goal. Minnesota’a penalty kill is ranked 21st in the NHL at 80.8% vs New York’s power play that converts at 19.7% ranking them 11th in the league. The Wild’s power play comes in at 18.6%, 14th in out of 30. The rangers kill penalties at 84% ranking them 8th overall. The Wild have been producing on the power play lately and have scored 38 power play goals in 65 games this season. The team’s penalty killers have allowed 39 goals this season. The second thing Minnesota needs to do is score the first goal score it early in the opening period and keep that lead throughout. The Wild play much better when they force an opponent to chase them and get away from their game plan. Getting an early lead doesn’t guarantee anything as we saw last game against the Oilers when the they jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then took their foot off the gas letting Edmonton climb back into the game and force OT and then winning in a shootout. The third thing the Wild need to do after taking that lead is clamp down defensively, limiting New York’s shots and scoring chances. Minnesota ranks 6th in the league allowing an average of just 27.9 shots a game. The Wild will need to keep the Rangers at bay as the New Yorkers average 33 per game the third highest total in the NHL. New York allows just under 30 shots while the Wild are averaging 27.9 an outing. While shot quantity is nice, shot quality is better. Minnesota is going to have to work the puck down low by the dump and chase method, shooting and getting a rebound or by working the puck in by skating it in or passing. I’d prefer to see the team maintain possession rather than rolling the dice with dumping it in or hoping for a rebound. Puck possession is going to be a key stat tonight.
The forward lines will be the sames as Tuesday’s debacle against the Oilers. The #1 line will remain Zach Parise (22g, 20a) and Jason Pominville (24g, 21a) with centerman Mikael Granlund (6g, 28a). This line needs to do the heavy lifting tonight against the Rangers back up net minder Cam Talbot. Line #2 will be newcomer Matt Moulson (18g, 22a) and Charlie Coyle (7g, 13a) centered by Captain Mikko Koivu (8g, 29a). This line will need to play some strong minutes tonight to take the pressure off the top line and force the Rangers to split their top defensive resources instead of focusing on the Parise-Pominville tandem. The 3rd line of center Kyle Brodziak (6g, 14a) with wingers Nino Niederreiter (11g, 20a) and Matt Cooke(9g, 15a). This group will be charged with shutting down the Rangers top scoring line. The 4th liners tonight are Dany Heatley (12g, 14a) and Matt McCormick (1g, 4a) and center Erik Haula (3g, 4a). Without former Ranger Mike Rupp in the lineup McCormick, Stoner, and even Brodziak may be called upon to keep the New Yorkers in check and step up to protect their teammates should liberties be taken. Any time Derek Dorsett or Daniel Carcillo are on the ice fists could start flying. That said Carcillo one of the dirtiest players in the NHL, seems to be less inclined to fight this year but sill has racked up 96 penalty minutes.
Defensively Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has made on change Putting Clayton Stoner on the 3rd pair with Keith Ballard. That leaves Nate Prosser the odd man out and a healthy scratch for tonight. The top D-pair remains Ryan Suter with Jared Spurgeon. They will have their hands full with the Rangers top scoring threats and will need to keep them to the outside and limit their shots on goal whether 5 on 5 or with the man advantage or man down situations. Spurgeon’s heavy slap shot from the point on power plays is responsible for the majority of his point production this season. The second pair of Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella will be tasked with big minutes 5 on 5 but will also see a fair amount of action on the power play and penalty kill as well. The Wild defense will have plenty to do stopping the Rangers top scoring threats of Brad Richards (16g, 29a), Mats Zuccarello (15g, 30a), Minnesota native Derek Steppan (11g, 33a)and new addition Marty St. Louis (29g, 33a). Each of these players are a threat to score each time they step onto the ice. Overall the Rangers have 11 players with 10 or more goals this season and 6 players with 20 or more assists. Darcy Kuemper will be in net for Minnesota and the hope is he will be able to shake off Tuesday’s ugly loss with a strong outing tonight. He will be facing Can Talbot who took the win when the Wild traveled to New York back in December. Tonight is Kuemper’s 20th start of the season with a record of 11-4-3 heading into this game. Talbot brings a record of 11-5-0 into tonight’s tilt.
Bottom line is this is as close to a must win game as vthe Wild have had all season. They need to end this losing streak at three. Their lead in the Wild Card chase in the Western Conference is down to 3 points over Dallas and 4 points over Phoenix. A loss tonight could see the Stars close to within a single win of the top Wild Card spot. Minnesota needs to pick up two points tonight in a convincing fashion and get some momentum going into Saturday’s game with the Blue Jackets before they head out on a three game road trip against Eastern Conference teams before a home and home series with the Detroit Red Wings. I’ll be back after tonight’s action with a recap, analysis, and my thoughts about the teams performance. Until next time this is Scott Drain, shouting out loud and clear, “LET’S GO WILD!”