The Minnesota Wild are invading the United Center tonight to take on The Chicago Blackhawks on national TV on the NBC Sports Network. The Wild are missing a couple of rather important pieces of their lineup in Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, both of whom suffered upper body injuries in the last game in L.A. The Blackhawks are missing two HUGE pieces of their lineup. You may have heard of them, named Toews and Kane. Yes, both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season. Time for the Minnesota Wild to swoop in and take two points from this Chicago squad. Oh yeah, the Minnesota Wild are also going for their 4th win of the season against the Blackhawks as well. Minnesota has taken the first 3 the first 4 meetings of the season going 3-1-0. In those 3 wins the Wild have outscored the ‘Hawks 11-7, winning two games in St. Paul and going 1-1 in Chicago. Tonight is also extremely important in the Wild Card race for the Wild. Entering play tonight Minnesota is 4 points ahead of both the Dallas Stars and the Phoenix Coyotes. The Minnesota Wild have 89 points to 85 for the Stars and Coyotes. The other big factor is going to be games left. The Wild have just 6 games left while the Coyotes have 5 and Dallas 7. At this point the Dallas Stars are more of a threat to the Wild in the top Wild Card spot in the West than the Coyotes are. Either way the Wild just need to keep on winning. The more they win the more they control their own destiny.
The Wild are missing Niederreiter and Granlund. While the team is calling their injuries “upper body” it’s pretty clear that both are suffering from some sort of injury from the neck up. Those pesky concussion like symptoms. Whatever it is, the Minnesota Wild would be very prudent to make sure those two are as close to 100% as possible before they came back. For Granlund this isn’t his first time this season with a head injury. He took a puck to the face and then in his first game back lasted all of one shift before a hit knocked him out for more games. Nino had his world rocked the other night by a chicken wing from Jake Muzzin, one of the poorer excuses for a player in the NHL. Muzzin’s the type of player who gets abnormally excited, sitting in a room by himself with the door locked watching “Slap Shot” over and over before each game.
What the loss of Nino and Granny means tonight for the Wild is another shuffling of the forward lines and the return of Dany Heatley to the ice after 2 games up in the press box as a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. Niederreiter along with Cody McCormick and Mike Rupp are the scratches tonight. Nino is listed as a scratch technically and the team has said they don’t want to rush him back. Hmmmm?!?! That said, here are the anticipated forward lines for the Minnesota Wild:
In the four game against the Blackhawks this season the leading scorers for the Minnesota Wild are Pominville (4g-1a), Granland (0g, 4), Cooke (2g, 1a), Fontaine (1g, 2a), Parise (2g, 0a), and Scandella (1g, 1a). Three more Wild players, Suter, Spurgeon and Heatley have 2 assists and 7 players have either 1 assist or goal to date against Chicago.
Defensively the Wild will be using the same defensemen as the last couple of games with personnel changes on the bottom two pairs. The pairing tonight are:
These pairs are tasked with further slowing down a Chicago Blackhawks team that is missing two of it’s top players in Kane and Toews and two of it’s top leader in the same two players. Kane was the top Chicago score against the wild with 4 goals and 1 assist. Toews had just 2 assists in four game vs the Wild, a rather low offensive output for the Blackhawks Captain. The #2 scorer for the ‘hawks was former Wild draftee Nick Leddy with 1 goal and 4 assists, next on the list is Brandon Saad with 2 goals and a single helper. The Wild are going to need to play tough, hard nosed defense tonight and keep the Blackhawks back on their heels and on the perimeter.
In net tonight one again will be Ilya Bryzgalov. He has yet to lose in regulation as a member of the Minnesota Wild posting a record of 4-0-2 with a save % of .909 and a goals against average at 2.16. The Wild need a win tonight. Period. Any type of loss, regulation, OT, or shootout just opens the door a crack more for the Stars and Coyotes. Minnesota needs to get off to a quick start, Control the pace of the game and keep the pressure on Chicago. The special teams are going to be the difference maker in tonight’s tilt. If the Wild fall into the parade to the penalty box trap it’s going to be a long night. The Blackhawks have the 9th ranked power play in the league at 20.2 while the Wild are ranked 15th at 18.8%. When it come to the penalty kill Chicago is 17th killing of 81.7% of penalties against while the Wild are even further down the list at 27th killing of just 79.1%. This a nationally televised game on the NBS Sports Network (NBC-SN) with the puck drop at 7pm Central Time. I’ll be back after the action with a recap and more. Until them enjoy this Wild game on a snowy night in Minnesota and as always, this is Scott Drain calling out into the cities and wilderness, “LET’S GO WILD, LET’S GO WILD!!”