The Minnesota Wild are in New Jersey tonight to take on the Devils in the last game of a three game road trip to the east coast. Puck drop is at 6 pm Central Time This is a night New Jersey fans, and Zach Parise have been anticipating all season long. This is Parise’s first game of his career in the Prudential Center using the visitor’s dressing room. Parise has said he doesn’t know what kind of reception he will get from the fans in New Jersey as he steps on the ice tonight. When Ryan Suter returned to Nashville for the first time he was treated to relentless booin every time he touched the puck. Will Paarise receive the same treatment? We’ll see tonight. These are New Jersey fans and have been known to be a bit on the brutal side, many would boo their own mother is she made a turnover of cost the team a goal. In his time with the Devil’s Parise totaled 194 goals, 216 assists for 410 total points over 7 seasons. So far this year he has 45 points (23g, 22a) in 54 games with the Wild. I look for him to add to those totals tonight skating on the top line with Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund. That tri0 has totaled 40 points on 15 goals and 25 assists in 14 games since becoming Minnesota’s #1 line. Parise has scored 15 of those points with 7 goals and 8 assists. Entering play tonight the Wild are 36-23-10 good for 82 points. They lead the Western Conference Wild Card race by five points over the Phoenix Coyotes and 7 points over the Dallas Stars with 13 games to play in the regular season. New Jersey is currently out of the playoff picture with 71 points on a record of 29-17-13. They sit in 11th in the Eastern Conference 5 points out of the second Wild Card spot held by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Wild are coming off an impressive 6-0 pounding of the New York Islanders Tuesday evening with some revamped forward lines. I expect those lines to remain together tonight. The top line of Parise, Pominville and center Granlund remained unchanged while the other three lines saw changes that seemed to work pretty well the first time out. We’ll see how they do tonight against a slightly better opponent. All time the Wild are 4-5-4 vs the Devils including a 4-0 shutout at the Xcel Energy Center bock on November 3rd. Tonight the second line is Matt Moulson with Mikko Koivu and Justin Fontaine. Moulson had a pair of goals last game against his old team the Islanders while Mikko Koivu had three assists to become the Minnesota Wild’s all time leading scorer with 438 points on 127 goals and 311 assists passing Marian Gaborik‘s total of 437 points. Fontaine is have a great rookie season with the Wild 13 goals, 7 assists and a +8 rating. The third line is Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley with Charlie Coyle. El Nino has totaled 12 goals 21 assists and a +11 rating, while Coyle has 7 goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 57 games. Heatley has strugggled at time this season but has potted 12 goals and 15 assists so far. The fourth liners tonight are Matt Cooke (9g, 16a), Cody McCormick (1g, 4a) and Kyle Brodziak (6g, 16a). This trio plays some tough minutes against opponents top lines and is the grittiest line the Wild have.
The defensive pairing tonight will consist of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin with Marco Scandella, and Nate Prosser skating with Clayton Stoner. Suter and Spurgeon both played very well against the Islanders with Spurgeon scoring his 4th goal of the season on a beauty of a slap shot from the top of the circle to the upper right corner of the net. Spurgeon isn’t a big guy, but he has one heck of a heavy shot as opposing goalies and defenders have found out when they block it or have it whistle by them. Suter continues to lead the league in minutes per game with an average of 29:45 a night, almost two and a half minutes more than anyone else in the NHL. Brodin and Scandella have been playing well together and are consistently able to shut down many teams secondary scoring opportunities. The third pair of Stoner and Prosser bring a lot of toughness and grit to the game night in night out. Stoner leads the team in fighting majors with 8 and will step up to defend a teammate whenever needed. Prosser has really blossomed after spending much of the first half of the season as a healthy scratch. He has 2 goals, 5 assists and a +3 rating to date. He also has the ability to get under opponents skin with his chirping ability, never a bad thing to have an opponent thinking of you instead of the game.
In goal tonight will be Ilya Brygalov. Typically Head Coach Mike Yeo gives the next start to a goalie who posts a shut out as Bryzgalov did Tuesday stopping all 36 shots he faced as he notched his first win for the Minnesota Wild. To date this season he has a record of 6-8-6 with a goals against average of 2.81 and a save % at .913. All time Bryzgalov is 5-5-1 with 2 shutouts against the Devils. Cory Schneider will get the start for New Jersey tonight bringing a record of 12-14-9 with a save % of .915 and a goals against average at 2.12. Jaromir Jagr leads the Devils in scoring this season with 59 points on 22 goals and 37 assists. The next leading scorer for New Jersey is Patrik Elias with 16 goals and 29 assists. Over all the Devils average 2.44 goals a game to the Wild’s 2.38. Defensively Minnesota surrenders just 2.33 goals a game, the 5th lowest average in the NHL to New Jersey’s 11th ranked 2.49.
This should be a pretty tight game tonight unless the Wild can jump out to an early lead and force the Devils to deviate from their game plan. Schneider has been inconsistent in net for New Jersey and hopefully the Wild’s revamped lines can take advantage of that. Parise is going to be fired up tonight and I hope he puts together a performance like Moulson did in his return to New York on Tuesday. One big area once again will be the power play for the Wild. They have been doing better as of late and their success rate is up to 18.4%. The Wild will have to make the most of their chances on the man advantage tonight against the best penalty kill in the league. New Jersey kills off penalties at a very impressive 87.2% rate. On the penalty kill Minnesota ranks 22nd at 80.9%. I;ll be back after the game with some analysis, a recap and just a bit of opinion. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting in a heavenly tone, “LET’S GO WILD, LET’S GO WILD!!”