The Minnesota Wild take on the Detroit Red Wings in a Saturday matinee at the Xcel Energy Center with puck drop slated for 1 pm Central Time. This is the front end of a home and home series that wraps up Sunday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. These 2 games are the only meetings of the season between Minnesota and Detroit. The Wild are back home after going 1-1-1 on a 3 game road trip to the East Coast. This weekends series will make 7 consecutive games Minnesota has played against Eastern Conference teams. I’m still getting used to the idea that Detroit is now an Eastern Conference team in the Atlantic Division. So far in this run against the east the Wild are 2-1-2. Entering play today Minnesota and Detroit are both in the race for their respective conferences Wild Card spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild are currently in the Top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 83 points on an overall record of 36-23-11. They lead the Dallas Stars by 8 points and the Phoenix Coyotes by 4. Dallas does have one game in hand on Minnesota and Phoenix who have just 12 games left to play. Down the stretch the Wild have 8 games against Western conference teams, 5 of those are divisional battle and 4 matchups with teams from the Eastern Conference. Bottom line is the Wild have to keep on winning to maintain their position in the playoff race. A Wild Card spot is the only option for the Wild as they are in 4th in the Central Division, 11 points behind 3rd place Colorado, 14 back of Chicago and 18 points behind division leading St. Louis.
The Red Wings enter play today 1 point out of the 2nd Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference held by the Columbus Blue jackets and 3 points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first Wild Card position. Detroit has made the playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons, but that streak could be in jeopardy as they are locked in a desperate battle for a Wild Card spot with Columbus (78 pts.), Washington (77 pts.), and Toronto (80 pts.). Detroit does have an edge with 2 games in hand on Toronto and Washington and 1 game in hand on Columbus.
Since Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo Changed up forward lines 2-4, two games ago, the Wild have scored a total of 9 goals with the scoring coming from all lines and the defense as well. Last game vs New Jersey the goals came from a defenseman, the top line, and the third line. Two games back the scoring came from lines 1,2 & 3 and a pair of goals by D-men. One other interesting thing about the game vs the Devils was of the 5 assists on the 3 goals came from defensemen and over the last two games the Wild D have totaled 6 points on 2 goals and 4 assists. So far I’d say Coach Yeo’s changes have been a success, with the Wild scoring above their season average both games while averaging 2.00 goals against. I know that’s a rather small sample size against a pair of teams not expected to make the playoffs but, it is encouraging to see balanced scoring and the defense getting involved regularly. The scoring will need to continue coming from multiple lines and from defensemen as well.
Once again Coach Yeo is going to make some minor line adjustments as Erik Haula reenters the lineup. Going into the action this afternoon the lines appear to be Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Joson Pominville on the top line. No need to change any thing there as Pominville and Parise lead the Wild in goals with 26 and 23 respectively. Pommer is also riding a 7 game point streak with 4 goals and 4 assists in that span. Granlund is putting up points as well with 30 assists to go with 8 goals on the season. The second line will feature Mikko Koivu (8g, 32a) centering Matt Moulson (20g, 23a) and Justin Fontaine (13g, 7a). Over the last two games this trio has 3 goals and 5 assists. This afternoon’s third liners are Nino Niederreiter (12g, 21a) and Matt Cooke (10g, 16a) with center Kyle Brodziak (6g, 16). Cooke recorded a goal against the Devils while all three had assists against the Islanders. On the fourth line will be Erik Haula (3g, 41) and Dany Heatley (12g, 15a) with Charlie Coyle (7g, 13a) playing the centerman position. Haula has been a healthy scratch the last two games and is itching to get back into the action. This line is a bit of an experiment with Haula now playing the wing instead of center as he has most of his 34 games this season. This 4th line is definitely atypical with the speedy Haula centering a big pair of power forwards. One of those forwards on the upside of his career the other on the downside. I’ll let you figure out which is which.
Defensively the pairing will be the same as the last two games. Keith Ballard suffered a lower body injury the other day during practice and will be sidelined for tonight at least. The pairs today will be Ryan Suter (6g, 32a) with Jared Spurgeon (4g, 17a). These two have racked up 2 goals and 2 assists over the last two outings. Pair number 2 with Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella each registered an assist against New Jersey while totaling over 21:30 in ice time each. The third pair is Clayton Stoner (1g, 4a) and Nate Prosser (2g, 5a). Prosser got screwed on a horrible call against the Devils. He put his arm up in reaction to a charging Devils’ Tim Sestito who led with his face while making the hit. The result was Sestito laying on the ice for his troubles and Prosser being wrongly assessed a 5-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. Sestito was helped off the ice and didn’t return. The incident was looked at by the league office in New York and no supplemental disciple was forthcoming. My guess would be the ref who made the horrible call received a call from an officiating supervisor to review his mistakes that game, but that is just my guess.
In net tonight will be super rookie Darcy Kuemper making his second career start against Detroit. Kuemper’s last outing vs the red Wings was his first NHL victory. He brings a record of 12-5-4 and a save percentage at .923 with a goals against average of 2.22 into the fray today. Ilya Brygalov started the last two games posting a shutout against the Islanders while losing in overtime to the Devils. Kuemper will be up against a Red Wings lineup that can score goals in a hurry and in bunches. This season though is a bit different than in years past with injuries taking their toll. Currently Detroit has 10, yes TEN, regulars out of their lineup due to injury. The list includes, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm, Daniel Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson, 4 more forwards and defenseman Jonathon Ericsson. The Wild are missing forward Jason Zucker who will be out at least for the rest of the regular season and possibly the playoffs along with D-man Keith Ballard. The other two injured for Minnesota are goaltenders Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom both of whom are done for the regular and post season.
Even with the injuries Detroit is still a very good team that will burn you if you let up on them for even a shift. Minnesota is going to have to be running on all cylinders this afternoon if they hope to take the front end of this home and home series. All time Minnesota is vs 14-24-9 the Red Wings, 7-8-8 at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have been outscored 152 to 107 by Detroit since entering the league in 2000 and 53 to 60 on home ice. The Wild are going to need to put together a three period effort today. If they take a period off as they have been guilty of doing lately the Red Wings will make them pay. Detroit is an injured squad right now and Minnesota needs to take advantage of that fact. The first goal of the game is going to be very important as the team that can control the pace of the game while maintaining puck control will get the two points. The Wild need to score on the power play as well. They have been getting some good looks with the man advantage, going 2 for 9 over the last two games. Their success rate is 18.4% on the power play and Minnesota kill penalties at an 80.8% clip. Detroit is 17.1% on the power play and 83.9% on the penalty kill this season. The Wild will need to stay out of the box and capitalize on the man advantage chances they do receive.
I think the Wild have a good chance to take two points from Detroit today. The Red Wings are banged up but are still in the hunt for a Wild Card spot making them a somewhat desperate team. The Wild need to use that desperation against them, forcing Detroit into mistakes Minnesota can take advantage of. I’ll be back after the action with a recap and some analysis. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting out, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD!!!”