Gameday Preview: Wild V. Predators

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2009

SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Owen Nolan #11 of the Minnesota Wild in action during their game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on October 10, 2009 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Reunions week continues on Wednesday for the Minnesota Wild, as the Nashville Predators visit the Xcel Energy Center.


The reunion in this game is Greg Zanon, facing his former team for the first time.  Zanon signed this offseason in Minnesota as a free agent.


The Wild are coming off of a disappointing loss in Chicago, as the team fell apart after dominating for much of the first ten minutes of the game, and the team will welcome this brief stay at home, where they remain undefeated (3-0-0).


These teams could be mirror images of one another at this point in the season, as both have offenses that are struggling greatly and both are coming off of disappointing losses to Chicago.


The teams split their four meetings last season and when the Wild won, they won in a big way.  The team scored 14 goals in their two victories, but failed to score once in their two losses.  That said, if the Wild are to get their offense on track, there is the potential for this one to be a huge confidence builder.


Both of these teams desperately need a win in this game as they are the bottom two teams in the Western Conference.





Minnesota will likely skate the same lineup that they did in Chicago.  We will likely not see a whole lot of Derek Boogaard in the coming weeks, as John Scott will be filling in on the blueline for the injured Kim Johnsson.  With that in mind, here are the likely line combinations.











On paper, these combos look pretty good, but the team needs to begin to gain some semblance of chemistry in order to start turning this season around.


For Nashville, it appears as if injured defenseman Dan Hamhuis will be back in the lineup, bolstering the team’s already strong blueline.  Here are the line combos that Nashville has been skating with in practice the last couple days.







If these are the team’s lines, they will be breaking up the “money” line of Sullivan, Legwand and Erat.  Also, Jason Arnott and Jordin Tootoo are likely still out.



Between the Pipes


With the injury to Josh Harding, there’s no doubt that we’ll see a steady diet of Niklas Backstrom in the coming weeks.  Tonight should be no different as he’ll likely get the nod.


For the Preds, I would expect to see Dan Ellis in net again, as he has been playing lights out recently.



What to Watch For


The Wild need to develop some sort of chemistry.


They tried to put Havlat on the first line with Koivu and Brunette and that failed.  He has shown limited chemistry with Belanger and Sykora, but not enough to get him going. 


It may be time for Richards to start experimenting to see who plays best together.  During the preseason, Benoit Pouliot looked great as Havlat and Sykora’s center.  Maybe that is the answer to get all three players going.


Something needs to be done, because this is a team that has absolutely no confidence in their offensive abilities right now.


Keep an eye on James Sheppard.  After his healthy scratch against the Hurricanes, Sheppard came out with a wholly unimpressive performance against Chicago.


The young center is likely running out of second chances and is going to need to start showcasing some of the talent that the Wild saw in him when they first drafted him.  He has the talent and had a fairly impressive preseason, but he seems to wilt under the pressure of the spotlight.


If he starts playing like he is capable of, this could give the Wild a deadly option as a number two center.


If he doesn’t, he could find himself warming up the seats in the press box quite frequently.



Key(s) to the Game


It seems like every time I preach special teams, special teams, special teams.


So today, I’m changing the record.


Decision making and teamwork are going to be the biggest keys to this game.


The Wild’s decision making when it comes to passing the puck and even shooting the puck has been just north of horrific this season.


They have done it all.  From attempting to make passes that you learn not to make back when you are playing Mite hockey to standing and staring as a player gets an unimpeded shot from the slot.


That needs to change.


Backstrom is holding up his end of the bargain.  He’s standing on his head just to keep the team in games.  It’s time for the defense to start holding up their end of the bargain as well.


This is going to begin and end with decision making and teamwork.


The defense is going to have to work together.  They need to communicate.  They need to talk while on the ice.  They need to make sure they know who has who, they need to make sure they know where the forecheckers are, they need to make sure they know where the passes need to go and where they shouldn’t go.


They need to get back to basics.


The puck drops tonight on FSN at 7 PM CDT.



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