Minnesota Wild (21-8-4) 46pts 2nd in the Central
3.06 Goals For Per Game (4th in the NHL)
1.94 Goals Against Per Game (1st in the NHL)
17.4% Power Play (18th in the NHL)
86% Penalty Kill (4th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #12 Eric Staal ~ 11G 17A = 28pts
2. #3 Charlie Coyle ~ 12G 15A = 27pts
3. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 8G 17A = 25pts
4. #22 Nino Niederreiter ~ 9G 13A = 22pts
5. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 8G 14A = 22pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #7 Chris Stewart ~ 42 PIM’s
2. #63 Kurtis Gabriel ~ 24 PIM’s
3. #3 Charlie Coyle ~ 22 PIM’s
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (17-6-3) 1.57GAA .948%SP 5SO
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (4-2-1) 3.11GAA .904%SP
Nashville Predators (15-13-5) 35pts 4th in the Central
2.82 Goals For Per Game (9th in the NHL)
2.76 Goals Against Per Game (17th in the NHL)
19.6% Power Play (11th in the NHL)
81.8% Penalty Kill (16th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #38 Viktor Arvidsson ~ 9G 14A = 23pts
2. #92 Ryan Johansen ~ 7G 16A = 23pts
3. #18 James Neal ~ 14G 6A = 20pts
4. #9 Filip Forsberg ~ 5G 14A = 19pts
5. #59 Roman Josi ~ 5G 14A = 19pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #12 Mike Fisher ~ 31 PIM’s
2. #51 Austin Watson ~ 26 PIM’s
3. #76 P.K. Subban ~ 25 PIM’s
1. #35 Pekka Rinne (13-9-4) 2.49GAA .916%SP 1SO
2. #74 Jusse Saros (2-2-1) 1.39GAA .950%SP
Scandella~Folin / Prosser
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! I hope everyone has managed to have a safe, rewarding holidays so far. The Minnesota Wild certainly went into the holiday break on a high note and now they face the obvious challenge of picking up where they left off. Oh and I should mention they will have to do this without having practiced at all since their 7-4 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday of last week. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t allow practices on the 24th-26th of December so the Wild boarded a plane for Nashville today and other than a little skate they’ll try to get it going on the fly, no pun intended.
Minnesota still has 3 games in hand and is just 3 points behind the Central Division leader Chicago. Some of you may know that I coach football and my mantra after every game is that we begin a quest to be 1-0 the next game. I don’t talk about streaks, whether they’re historic or not. I only care about winning the next game and Minnesota would be wise to take a similar approach.
The Predators also have 3 games in hand on Chicago and are currently sitting in 4th place in the Central and have had more of a roller coaster of a season thus far. P.K. Subban certainly was busy during the holidays as he handed out gifts to kids with sickle cell disease in Nashville which earns him a stick tap for being a good person. Yet, today he is the enemy and he’s had some history against the Wild as he netted his first hat trick against Minnesota a few years back. He and fellow Predators defenseman Roman Josi have been a tad bit muted this season and Ryan Ellis give Nashville its most mobile group of defenseman its ever had. Subban may not be in the lineup as he had missed the last few games with an injury and he did not participate in today’s morning skate for the Predators.
Up front, the Predators like to play an up-tempo style which is pretty typical of Peter Laviolette-coached teams. Viktor Arvidsson, former scoring ace of the Milwaukee Admirals has really had a strong start to the season and even though he’s just 5’9″ he’s very strong on his skates and he has good hands. The rest of the Predators’ forward corps has been a bit disappointing. Filip Forsberg has just 5 goals but he still is the Predators most dangerous forward most nights. Ryan Johansen has settled in his role as the top line center and the Predators have an above average attack that will keep Minnesota on its toes defensively.
Pekka Rinne has been reasonable between the pipes, but he isn’t the Vezina-calibre wall that he used to be. Defensively the Predators have missed Shea Weber‘s physical presence and with Nashville playing that up-tempo game they can get caught in transition which is something the Wild look to do. Minnesota has done a good job against some of the league’s best goaltenders as of late so they shouldn’t be be intimidated by this challenge.
One thing we know for certain, led by their infamous Cellblock 303 section, we’re going to hear the Nashville fans boo former Predators’ defenseman Ryan Suter incessantly every time he touches the puck. If you want to turn that into a drinking game you will find yourself feeling pretty good by the end of the 1st period. Feel free to use that along with 3 in the Box‘s Anthony LaPanta and Mike Greenlay drinking game which is guaranteed to get you blitzed.
Suter is playing well and Minnesota’s defensive core has been rock solid prior to the holiday break (knock on wood). Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon have all been particularly good and are a big reason Minnesota is the most stingy team in the NHL. Of course, Devan Dubnyk has been outstanding and if I had to guess he’s likely going to get the start for tonight’s game.
Up front the Wild have embraced the scoring by committee approach and Minnesota has been trending steadily upward in goals per game. The Wild are rolling 3 lines that can score each night and it will be interesting to see if the break cools them off or if they can resume their dominant play. Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal have been red-hot going into this little hiatus.
The Wild are expected to have Erik Haula return to the lineup, but Zach Parise is still out with what is suddenly being revealed as strep throat by the Wild beat writer Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Whether it sounds like a conspiracy theory or not, I’m not buying the strep throat excuse and I think his back injury continues to nag at him. Either way, Haula’s return will be very helpful both offensively and defensively and I think it helps us match up better against the Predators. The Wild has also called up Jordan Schroeder in case one of them can’t go.
The keys for the Minnesota Wild winning this game tonight are:
- Working pucks deep against the Predators defense and wearing them down. Minnesota was excellent with this the last few games and it may sound cliche but it makes a huge difference as usually results in generating high quality scoring chances.
- Stay out of the penalty box. The Predators power play has plenty of weapons and the Wild would be wise not to tempt fate too often by putting Nashville on the man advantage. Minnesota will need to move its feet and not allow itself to get mixed up in the little stupid altercations the Predators sometimes like to start.
- Make them pay on the counter attack. The Wild do a pretty good job of turning the tables against their opponents by defending well through the neutral zone and then quickly transitioning to offense. The Predators want to be aggressive offensively but if Minnesota can counter attack and bury a few that way it will take their heart and force them to play a more conservative style that they do not wish to play.
I have to give a shoutout to the guys at 3 in the Box; Aaron, Kenney and Jive who were a ton of fun to hangout before tonight’s game against the Predators where I joined the group as they previewed the Wild’s week ahead among other hockey topics. Check out their latest podcast here!
Whether you pronounce Vezina, Veh-zih-nah or Vuh-zeenah Dubnyk has had played exceedingly well to this point (knock on wood), so to finish it off I’d like to give you a classic Minnesota Sports Parody song courtesy of friend Kari Wahlen. Enjoy!