The Wild have won back-to-back one-goal games over the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, giving them their first winning streak of the season. Meanwhile, the Canucks are winners of three of their last four and have won two straight.
In the first meeting between these bitter rivals the Wild drew blood first, but the Canucks peppered shots at goalie Niklas Backstrom and skated off with a 2-1 victory. By comparison, Backstrom had to stop 37 shots while Roberto Luongo had to stop just 17.
Both teams are suffering through a rash of injuries as well. Luongo remains sidelined with a broken rib, but he is on the five-game road trip with the Canucks and looks to be close to returning. The ‘Nucks are also missing Jannick Hansen (hand), Daniel Sedin (foot), Ryan Johnson (upper body), Alexander Bolduc (upper body), Michael Grabner (foot) and Pavol Demitra (shoulder). The Wild will be without the services of Kim Johnsson (upper body) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion).
I would expect to see much the same lineup for the Wild that they have been skating with the last two games. The roster is finally starting to take shape and show some chemistry, and I think that Richards would be hard pressed to find an excuse that is not injury related to insert Benoit Pouliot back in the lineup—no matter how much he has improved.
For the Canucks, they will also be without the services of defenseman Shane O’Brien, who was suspended for his part in the recent incident with the New York Rangers. No word on what the lineup will be for the Canucks but, like the Wild, they have been playing well and there probably won’t be too many shake-ups.
In nets, you can expect to see Backstrom for the Wild and Raycroft for the Canucks.
What to Watch For
This could be a physical game. Scratch that. This will be a physical game.
In the first match up of the season between these two teams, they tend to forget that they don’t like each other.
By game two? They remember that they flat out hate each other.
One thing that has stood out in the Wild’s last two victories was their physicality. Quite simply, they’re not as easy to push around as they have been in years past.
Everyone on the Wild has shown their own little bit of grit this season (with the exception of James “Charmin” Sheppard.) This is a team whose identity has suddenly changed from last season and they are beginning to embrace it.
Keep an eye on the Wild’s second line. Eric Belanger has centered Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora to perfection over the last two games, to the tune of two goals over that span, as well as three points in his last three games.
This line’s success is tied to the team’s success. If they come out strong, it gives the Wild two legitimate scoring lines, each of which can play in both ends.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Ryan Kesler for the Canucks. He has had five points in his last two games and his physical edge is essential to the Canucks offense, especially with both Sedin and Demitra out.
Keys to the Game
This game will come down to goaltending and defense.
The Wild have drastically cut back on their defensive mistakes over the last two games, and while their two glaring mistakes both resulted in goals for the opposition, they have been fantastic in their own end.
Meanwhile, Niklas Backstrom is again enjoying a solid year despite the wins column.
On the other end of the ice, Andrew Raycroft is proving to be more than a suitable fill-in for the injured Roberto Luongo and has looked fantastic doing so.
In order to counter Luongo's presence in front of the net, the Wild need to put shots on goal. Their performance against Pittsburgh was a bit deceiving—they had more than the fifteen shots they were credited for. The problem is that the majority of their shots ended up hitting a body at one point or another. As awe-inspiring as their defensive performance was in that game, the team needs to put pressure on Raycroft and get to him early.
If they can do this, they have a chance to put up some big numbers.
The puck drops at the Xcel Energy Center at 7 pm CST.