Minnesota Wild (42-17-6) 90pts 1st in the Central
3.25 Goals For Per Game (2nd in the NHL)
2.35 Goals Against Per Game (4th in the NHL)
21.5% Power Play (6th in the NHL)
84.1% Penalty Kill (6th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 21G 39A = 60pts
2. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 18G 32A = 50pts
3. #12 Eric Staal ~ 19G 29A = 48pts
4. #22 Nino Niederreiter ~ 20G 26A = 46pts
5. #3 Charlie Coyle ~ 14G 30A = 44pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #7 Chris Stewart ~ 79 PIM’s
2. #21 Ryan White ~ 70 PIM’s
3. #24 Mathew Dumba ~ 49 PIM’s
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (35-14-3) 2.03GAA .932%SP 5SO
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (7-3-3) 3.05GAA .905%SP
Florida Panthers (29-25-11) 69pts 6th in the Atlantic
2.43 Goals For Per Game (25th in the NHL)
2.72 Goals Against Per Game (15th in the NHL)
16.7% Power Play (25th in the NHL)
86.4% Penalty Kill (1st in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #21 Vincent Trocheck ~ 22G 23A = 45pts
2. #16 Alexander Barkov ~ 16G 23A = 39pts
3. #26 Thomas Vanek ~ 16G 23A = 39pts
4. #81 Jonathan Marchessault ~ 19G 19A = 38pts
5. #68 Jaromir Jagr ~ 12G 23A = 35pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #22 Shawn Thornton ~ 60 PIM’s
2. #5 Aaron Ekblad ~ 58 PIM’s
3. #68 Jaromir Jagr ~ 48 PIM’s
1. #34 James Reimer (12-10-5) 2.52GAA .919%SP
2. #20 Reto Berra N/A
Terrific passing, timely scoring, solid defense and great goaltending. Of course I’m talking about the Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament going on in St. Paul and not the Minnesota Wild. None of those things are happening with the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota is struggling to complete even simple passes and goals have been hard to come by. The play is sloppy and uninspired, in a way that reminds one of the way the school lunch lady threw some meaty gravy over some ice-cream scooped mashed potatoes. Eat up kid, even if its ugly and its damn ugly right now for the Wild in just about every way possible.
Goaltending, normally a source of strength has been average at best and the team finds itself in sort of late-season haze. Devan Dubnyk looked rather mundane against Tampa Bay, so maybe its for the best the Wild will be giving Darcy Kuemper the start this evening. Martin Hanzal and his lack of quickness is starting remind people of another former member of the Wild who I will talk about later in this game preview.
Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau called said this was the first real dose of adversity the team has faced this season and it is interesting to see how this team responds to the challenge. Forgive me if I made you all flashback to shades of last season with Mike Yeo where that statement seemed to be an every other game occurrence. Boudreau continued by adding he’s felt the team hasn’t been playing well for a while now, and that they won some games they probably didn’t deserve to and how those bad habits are really coming to roost now.
I have to agree. The Wild seem to be playing like a club that thinks they can be a fancy team which can flip a switch when it needs to win games instead of winning through hard work and attacking in waves which allowed it to climb as far as it has this season. It needs to get back to that otherwise this great start won’t mean anything at all.
On some levels it almost appears like the team has started to worry more about who it is setting up for goals than taking what their opponents giving them, attacking in waves and allowing the goals and scoring chances develop on its own. In the 1st period against the Lightning, the Wild clearly were trying to set up Zach Parise for shots. Tampa Bay quickly understood that and then baited the Wild into a series of foolish turnovers as they kept trying to set up their alternate captain.
A big part of what has made the Wild difficult to match up against was the fact teams had no idea who would be the go-to guy on any given night. The Wild simply took the opportunities the opponents were giving them and if that meant the 4th line led the way then so be it. Minnesota only makes itself easier to neutralize if its only going to try to set a few players for prime scoring chances. No doubt the film session this morning was probably a little painful to watch but they only have themselves to blame. If there were any silver linings to last night’s game it was the fact Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal appear to be taking more chances to shoot the puck. Hopefully that continues tonight.
What about the Florida Panthers?
The Panthers have been a roller coaster since it gave Gerard Gallant the axe this fall, replacing him with then-General Manager Tom Rowe. Florida is the kind of team where they’ll win 5 games in a row and then lose 5 in a row. They are still in the hunt for a wild card spot in the playoffs but trail the New York Islanders by 6 points for the final spot.
Management certainly expects the Panthers to make the post-season as they acquired Thomas Vanek via trade and this should be the first (and likely only) time this team will face its former winger this season. Vanek’s tendency to be lazy on his shifts made him ‘persona non grata’ among Wild fans, and the team bought him out but I think we’ll see a pretty motivated player this evening. In fact, with how poorly Minnesota has played its last few games I think the Panthers will be motivated as they will see it as a great chance to earn a crucial 2 points against a non-Conference team.
Florida is led up front by Vincent Trocheck, who is equally dangerous as a sniper as he is as a set up man. Alexander (aka Sasha) Barkov is like a younger and more assertive Mikko Koivu and no doubt he’ll be looking to take the puck to the net against a smaller, more finesse focused Wild blueline. Jaromir Jagr has faded a bit, but he can still be dangerous when given time and space. Jonathan Marchessault, the speedy former role player from Tampa Bay had a hot start but has cooled off but if the Wild don’t work hard and move their feet he’s precisely the kind of player that could have a big night against us.
So what can the Minnesota Wild do to earn a win tonight in South Florida?
- We, not me – the Minnesota Wild cannot worry about boosting the egos of veterans or its younger core. They need to play hard and let the goals and good plays manifest itself on its own. Bruce Boudreau has done a good job of reading the lineup throughout most of the season, he’ll be able to recognize the hot hand(s) and give them the opportunities but they have to be working hard as a team in order for that to really matter.
- Keep your foot on the gas – the Panthers have a pretty modest offense, and are most comfortable in a low-scoring game. If the Wild can jump out to an early lead they cannot let up or allow the Panthers to hang around or they will be flirting with disaster.
- Speed kills – this might be a great opportunity to get Jordan Schroeder back in the lineup as the Panthers are not a real heavy team. He has provided a good spark in the past and I think that element has been sorely missing in their last few games. I’d rest Hanzal or another bottom 6 forward to send a message that they need more effort from them. Mathew Dumba also could return and this should spare us from having to watch Nate Prosser play anymore than he has to.