Two meetings in just over a week. Not a bad way to renew a rivalry.
The Wild are coming off of a three-day rest after their disappointing loss to the champs of the regular season, the San Jose Sharks. It has proved to be quite the eventful three off-days for the team as well.
As I will talk about later, the Wild have switched up defensive pairings for this game in order to try to cut down on some of the defensive mistakes made. In addition, the team has gotten Derek Boogaard back from his concussion.
The bad news?
The team has lost spark plug Cal Clutterbuck for what they are calling “weeks” with a sprained ankle and sniper Petr Sykora for the remainder of the road trip with a sore groin.
To replace Clutterbuck and Sykora, the Wild have called up Andy Hilbert and Nathan Smith. You’ll forgive me if this doesn’t have me jumping out of my seat for joy, but this clearly indicates the dire straits the team’s system is in currently.
Hilbert is your "plain Jane" fourth-line center. He won’t do anything egregiously wrong, but he’s not going to do anything spectacular for you, either. Smith is a fairly productive AHL player, but has yet to see these skills transfer to the NHL level.
For the Ducks, there appear to be no outstanding injuries, and the team is looking to rebound from their loss to the Rangers and build upon their previous two victories against two solid teams in the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins.
The last time these two teams faced, the Wild fell behind early only to mount a seemingly impossible comeback to win 4-3 in overtime.
Don’t think that the Ducks have forgotten this.
The Ducks are a notoriously physical team; something that the Wild will have to match to keep up. The Ducks are likely to come out hard and pressure the Wild into making mistakes, much like they did during the first two periods of last Tuesday’s game.
The Wild, meanwhile, will have to perform without the services of three of their top-six forwards.
The Wild’s likely lineup for tonight will look like this up front:
At first glance, this is scary. There is a lot of potential with the team’s second and third lines, but not much scoring punch past the first line. Benoit Pouliot will get a lot of ice time tonight and will hopefully be able to find his groove in the scoring department. Meanwhile, James Sheppard will be flanked by two cagey veterans, both capable of scoring goals and will need to create to his full potential for this line to have any sort of success.
The up side, however, is that it gives Sheppard and Pouliot an ample chance to step up and take the bull by the horns. Also, it is worth noting that Richards has said that Boogaard is a gametime decision. If Boogaard doesn’t go, expect Scott to step in on D.
On defense, as I mentioned, the Wild have switched up some of the pairings.
This is going to be an interesting experiment. I honestly feel like playing Schultz with Zidlicky might have a positive effect on Schultz, and I think that Hnidy is defensively sound enough to make up for any boneheaded passes that Johnsson may attempt.
At the same time, Johnsson and Schultz have been defensive partners since Johnsson’s arrival in Minnesota. You can replace a lot of things in a pairing, but you can’t replace chemistry.
Backstrom will likely start in net for the Wild.
Meanwhile, for Anaheim, they will likely roll the same line up that they did in their previous meeting. I would expect Hiller, who has the hot hand at the moment, to start in net for the Ducks.
What to Watch For
While John Scott is going to be sitting this game out, George Parros had a very pointed discussion with him.
Parros told him that if the Wild are ever up in the Ducks' barn 3-0, he expects him to return the favor.
With Boogaard being a gametime decision, this could be an interesting dynamic to watch. Scott’s fight is largely thought to be the momentum-shifter in Tuesday’s game, and Parros might want some sort of rematch.
Failing that, though, keep an eye on Wild regulars Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns. Both have been relatively quiet this season so far and both had high expectations resting on their shoulders to begin the season. Knowing both of these players, it’s only a matter of time before they both breakout and it could very easily happen tonight.
Key(s) to the Game
Special teams, special teams, special teams.
Did I mention that special teams will be important?
I say this because the Wild has been absolutely atrocious at even strength this season. They have had a hard time filling the back of the net and it is something that needs to be reversed for the team to succeed.
The biggest way that this is going to be reversed is for players other than the Wild’s power-play units to step up to the plate, especially with the Wild being as one-dimensional as they currently are.
Teams are able to key on the Wild’s top line, which means that their secondary scoring needs to find some way to kickstart things and increase their productivity. If they are able to accomplish this, the pressure will be off of the top line, and they will become more productive as well.