Minnesota Wild (32-27-6) 70pts 5th in the Central
2.75 Goals For Per Game (25th in the NHL)
2.86 Goals Against Per Game (12th in the NHL)
21.3% Power Play (13th in the NHL)
80.2% Penalty Kill (16th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #11 Zach Parise ~ 24G 30A = 54pts
2. #12 Eric Staal ~ 19G 25A = 44pts
3. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 7G 35A = 42pts
4. #46 Jared Spurgeon ~ 12G 26A = 38pts
5. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 16G 17A = 33pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #36 Nick Seeler ~ 49 PIM’s
2. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 44 PIM’s
3. #29 Greg Pateryn ~ 37 PIM’s
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (26-21-5) 2.58GAA .912%SP 1SO
2. #32 Alex Stalock (6-6-1) 3.08GAA .890%SP
Nashville Predators (37-25-5) 79pts 2nd in the Central
2.94 Goals For Per Game (18th in the NHL)
2.64 Goals Against Per Game (5th in the NHL)
12.5% Power Play (30th in the NHL)
80.3% Penalty Kill (15th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #92 Ryan Johansen ~ 11G 43A = 54pts
2. #59 Roman Josi ~ 14G 37A = 51pts
3. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 15G 35A = 50pts
4. #14 Mattias Ekholm ~ 8G 34A = 42pts
5. #9 Filip Forsberg ~ 21G 19A = 40pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #17 Wayne Simmonds ~ 90 PIM’s
2. #76 P.K. Subban ~ 46 PIM’s
3. #14 Mattias Ekholm ~ 39 PIM’s
1. #35 Pekka Rinne (23-17-3) 2.50GAA .914%SP 3SO
2. #74 Juuse Saros (14-8-2) 2.63GAA .916%SP 2SO
When I was in college I used to be on a radio show two nights a week from midnight to 2:00AM aka ‘the graveyard shift.’ It was a fun opportunity but it sure was pretty rough to get up and go to classes the next day. You couldn’t just fall asleep after the show because you were wired so what you ended up with was some rest masquerading as sleep. I would guess this is the situation the Minnesota Wild will find themselves in after a nice road win in Calgary and having boarded the red eye flight back to Minnesota early this morning.
The Nashville Predators should be well rested having spent last evening in St. Paul. Hopefully someone pulled the fire alarm, just to keep it fair. All kidding aside as tired as the Wild will no doubt be, they cannot afford to squander any chance to earn two points as the wildcard race is incredibly tight.
1. Winnipeg 64GP – 80pts
2. Nashville 67GP – 79pts
3. St. Louis 65GP – 74pts
1. Calgary 65GP – 85pts
2. San Jose 65GP – 84pts
3. Vegas 66GP – 75pts
1. Dallas 65GP – 71pts
2. Minnesota 65GP – 70pts
3. Arizona 65GP – 69pts
4. Colorado 65GP – 68pts
5-7. Chicago, Edmonton, Vancouver 65GP – 63pts
Needless to say the margin of error is razor thin. The Wild must dig deep and find a way to at least try to draw a point from this game. Expect the Predators to pour it on early to try to exhaust the team early. You could see Calgary try to do the same thing on Saturday night, but an early goal backed them off and muted the hostile home crowd. Now the Wild must try to achieve the opposite effect. To get an early goal to get the home crowd something to cheer for so they can help encourage this team to keep battling and pushing them farther than they may have felt was possible.
Lately the Wild have been led by their younger players, most notably Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and newcomer Ryan Donato. Eriksson Ek has raised his game to being strong at both ends of the ice and has been an offensive catalyst for his linemates. Greenway continues to exhibit strong play down low and some good instincts in the high traffic areas of the ice. Kunin has been a little less prominent but his puck pressure and willingness to throw his body around has provided good energy. Lastly, Ryan Donato’s willingness to pull the trigger as well as his on-ice vision have resulted in some big goals in this team’s last 5 games. The Wild will need their youthful ability to recover so they can lead this club once again.
Even during the game against Calgary, some of the Wild’s older players; particularly center Eric Staal and defenseman Ryan Suter looked extremely fatigued and the Flames nearly capitalized on their struggles to move their feet. Expect Nashville to attack heavily whenever these two are on the ice; especially when they’re both out there. No doubt it would help if Zach Parise would return to the lineup as he should be fresh having not played last night against the Flames. At this point he’s said to be a game time decision.
Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said in the post-game interview in Calgary that the team hasn’t executed all that well at times, but its strong defensive structure has bailed it out in these tough games against the Flames and Jets respectively.
So while they may not seem like they’re always on the same page in the offensive zone, they’ve played decent team defense and its hard to argue with that observation. I think the fact the team is generally faster and that has certainly helped them defend more effectively. It probably would help if the Wild tried to reduce Suter’s minutes; especially on the power play where I feel he stays out too long on his shifts. They will need that speed against a deep Predators squad who is also trying to gel with its newly acquired talent as well.
Mikael Granlund will no doubt get a lot of attention from a storyline perspective, but the Predators also added big bodied forwards Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle too. The lack of cohesion was evident in their last game against the Winnipeg Jets. The Predators had their traditional scoring line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson and then a hodge podge of different personnel groupings. Shutting down the Predators top line must be a priority for the Wild if they want to have a chance tonight.
Between the pipes, I would expect the Predators to go with Pekka Rinne but it will be interesting to see if Boudreau decides to use Devan Dubnyk after having played less than 24 hours ago in Calgary. Dubnyk is certainly the hot hand, but he was pretty busy so I could certainly see a strong argument to give Alex Stalock the start and hope for the best. While Dubnyk probably wants to play, this is why you have a back up goaltender to help spell him the increased risk of an injury by not forcing him to play on back-to-back nights. A unique part of tonight’s game is that the Wild play Nashville again on Tuesday in Music City. So you may want to save Dubnyk for that road start anyway.
So what are the keys to a Wild victory this evening?
1. Weather the storm – I have little doubt the Predators are going to try to blitz the Wild in the first 10 minutes of this hockey game. Not only will the Wild have to do their best to go unscathed on the scoreboard but they’ll also be best served by staying out of the penalty box during this time as well. If the Predators are as aggressive as I think they’ll be, there might be opportunities to counter attack and catch them off guard. An early goal by the Wild could really take the wind out of the Predators’ sails.
2. Give the kids more rope – As I mentioned before, the kids have been the Wild’s best players even before the trade deadline. They have the most legs, even late in the game. It is to the Wild’s best interest is to lean on that youthful enthusiasm by giving them more chances to perform on special teams and in scoring situations. Not only do I feel they’ll show more energy with increased opportunity, but I think they’ll be more likely to score as well.
3. Starts and Finishes – I think the first few minutes and the last few minutes are crucial parts of a game when you’re on the 2nd night of a back to back. Those are the times where you’re most likely to be a bit sluggish or fatigued. The Wild would be best served by keeping their highest energy players on the ice during these portions of the game. At times against Calgary they had their older players on the ice and it nearly cost Wild the game. Don’t tempt fate like that again.
What do you think will be important for a Wild victory tonight? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!