Minnesota Wild (36-23-11) 83pts 4th in the Central
2.39 Goals For (26th)
2.36 Goals Against (5th)
18.4% Power Play (15th)
80.8% Penalty Kill (22nd)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #29 Jason Pominville ~ 26G 24A = 50pts
2. #11 Zach Parise ~ 23G 22A = 45pts
3. #26 Matt Moulson ~ 20G 23A = 43pts
4. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 8G 32A = 40pts
5. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 8G 30A = 38pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #4 Clayton Stoner ~ 80 PIM's
2. #24 Matt Cooke ~ 52 PIM's
3. #39 Nate Prosser ~ 52 PIM's
1. #35 Darcy Kuemper (12-5-4) 2.22GAA .923%SP 2SO
2. #33 Ilya Bryzgalov (6-8-7) 2.86GAA .911%SP 2SO
Detroit Red Wings (32-24-13) 77pts 5th in the Atlantic
2.58 Goals For (19th)
2.70 Goals Against (15th)
17.1% Power Play (18th)
83.9% Penalty Kill (10th)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #55 Niklas Kronwall ~ 7G 36A = 43pts
2. #11 Daniel Alfredsson ~ 17G 25A = 42pts
3. #14 Gustav Nyquist ~ 20G 17A = 37pts
4. #93 Johan Franzen ~ 15G 20A = 35pts
5. #13 Pavel Datsyuk ~ 15G 18A = 33pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #27 Kyle Quincey ~ 76 PIM's
2. #2 Brendan Smith ~ 54 PIM's
3. #55 Niklas Kronwall ~ 42 PIM's
1. #50 Jonas Gustavsson (15-4-3) 2.55GAA .912%SP
2. #35 Jimmy Howard (16-16-10) 2.65GAA .912%SP 2SO
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As is the custom in the home stretch of the season, fans spend each night scoreboard watching to see if their team lost or gained ground by the actions of their opponents. Losses often seem to be compounded by victories from those clubs you're trailing or are chasing you. The pressure builds and broadcasters spend lots of time talking about games in hand. Here are the current standings in the Western Conference.
1. St. Louis ~ 69GP (47-15-7) – 101pts
2. San Jose ~ 71GP (46-18-7) – 99pts
3. Anaheim ~ 70GP (45-18-7) – 97pts
4. Chicago ~ 71GP (41-15-15) – 97pts
5. Colorado ~ 71GP (44-21-6) – 94pts
6. Los Angeles ~ 70GP (39-25-6) – 84pts
7. Minnesota ~ 70GP (36-23-11) – 83pts
8. Phoenix ~ 70GP (34-25-11) – 79pts
9. Dallas ~ 69GP (32-26-11) – 75pts
The Wild have an 8 point buffer in their favor over 9th ranked Dallas right now (knock on wood) but its far too soon to say the team is safely in a playoff spot. After a hot start out of the Olympic break the Wild have started to limp towards the post-season. Minnesota is 4-2-4 in its last 10 games. The Wild have struggled through slow starts, and an inability to will themselves the extra point in overtime or the shootout. Some of this can be traced to the Wild's challange to identify lines and pairings with good chemistry, but at times you have to wonder whether its an issue over players waiting for a teammate to raise their game as opposed to taking the initative themselves. Or is the team simply making chemistry more complicated than it needs to be.
A few days ago, Wild winger Dany Heatley complained to the media about playing time. I know I speak for a lot of Wild fans in the fact we're in agreement, except unlike the former Badgers' star we believe he's playing far too much than too little. Heatley feels as though he's not getting enough prime minutes. Wild fans have been asking themselves why this organization continues to avoid scratching the mostly ineffective winger, while scratching younger players who seem to have far more versatility to their game like Erik Haula for example. Heatley complains, and the Wild coaching staff meets often with the former 50-goal scorer to try to assuade his feelings of inadaquate ice time and discuss ways he can contribute. No matter how poorly how Heatley plays, (he currently has the teams' worst +/- rating at -13) it never seems to be bad enough to be a scratch. Heatley is currently playing on the 4th line as well as some limited work on the power play. Instead of adressing the Heatley situation, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is asked to address why the team is scratching Haula. Yeo's response is for Haula to take teammate Justin Fontaine's patient approach to handling being scratched for 5 games in a row. Sounds like ok advice, but I don't buy the reasoning behind it.
At the time of Fontaine's exile to the press box, many fans wondered why Fontaine was out and Heatley was in. Simply put, the elephant in the room is that Heatley is not very effective in a checking role on the 4th line but he's not fast or able to create enough scoring chances on his own in a top 6 role. Whether its a mandate from the coaching staff or the front office, its clear his roster spot is basically guaranteed. Unfortunately, the team has been forced to shuffle him all over the lineup as they try to put him in places where he hurts the team the least, and right now the 'safest' spot is on the 4th line which Heatley is unhappy with. Bottom line, he's hurting the team, everyone knows it, yet he still plays which is why fans are fed up with this situation. I am sure the fact the team is paying Heatley a hefty $7.5 million per season makes the organization feel compelled to play him, but is the cost of squandering the remainder of his salary worth putting their playoff hopes at risk by giving ice time to a player who is more of a liability than an asset? Its Heatley's last year of his contract, and I don't think the Wild intend on re-signing him so why should they care to spare his feelings so much? Haula's and Fontaine's time spent as a scratch seems to fly in the face of how they've dealt with their goaltenders, where the team has always chosen to go with the hot hand.
Speaking of goaltenders, I'd expect the Wild to go back to Darcy Kuemper for today's tilt. Ilya Bryzgalov has been decent enough so far in his 3 starts, and his superior experience was a major reason the team opted to trade for him instead of Viktor Fasth. Yet with a home-at-home I expect the team to use both goaltenders. Defensively the Wild have been a bit better in their own end recently, but they will have to utilize short, quick passes instead of chipping it out along the glass and boards which make for the easy kind of turnovers that the Red Wings have traditionally thrived upon.
Detroit, like the Wild is in the midst of a tight race for the post season as well. Currently, the Red Wings are just 1 point behind 8th place Columbus for a spot in the playoffs. The Red Wings have a 22-year playoff streak to keep alive. When Henrik Zetterberg was injured while playing in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in conjunction to some health struggles with Pavel Datsyuk lately have caused some experts to write off the Red Wings from playoff contention but Detroit does not intend to go quietly.
The Red Wings have sort of used a hero by committee approach similar to that of when the Wild were without Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu through parts of December and January. It may not look all that scary on paper, but young players developed slowly and deliberately in Grand Rapids, who won a Calder Cup last season are now stepping up to chip in offense. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are more fruit from savvy drafting and they may be the reason Detroit sneaks into the playoffs.
The Red Wings also lean heavily on Niklas Kronwall to carry the load defensively as he averages almost 25 minutes per game. Former Western Michigan standout Danny DeKeyser has also logged pretty big minutes for his first pro season and has earned rave reviews for his versatility and poise. Between the pipes, the Red Wings have recieved quality starts from 'the Monster' Jonas Gustavsson while incumbant starter Jimmy Howard has worked through his injuries. I expect both goaltenders to make an appearence in this home-at-home series.
This is a huge two games for both clubs as they both hope to gain points against teams outside their respective conference. I think fans can exect to see two very motivated and energized teams. The games will have the tempo and intensity of a playoff game. If the Wild want to win they will have to limit their turnovers and keep it simple. The Wild used a similar approach to this in their last game against New Jersey on Thursday as they rallied back in the 3rd period. Hopefully the Wild can get off to a fast start and put the Red Wings on their heels right away. As the motto of the U.S. Navy Seals says, so it is true for the Wild from here on out, "the only easy day, was yesterday."