The good news has been few and far between this season for the Wild; however, they will try to make it four wins in a row tonight as the Anaheim Ducks roll into town for the third meeting between the two teams.
Each team has won on their home ice thus far in the season series, with the Wild taking the first game in dramatic fashion, coming from three goals behind in the third period to win the game in overtime. The Ducks returned the favor with a 3-2 victory in Anaheim just eight days later.
The Water Fowl are just one point behind the Wild in the Western Conference standings, but have dropped their last two games and have struggled for most of this season.
Part of those struggles have been because of their goaltending. The usually spectacular tandem of Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastian Giguere have both been putting up pedestrian numbers this season—Giguere with a .918 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average and Hiller with .909 and 3.09, respectively.
The Wild, meanwhile, are riding a three-game winning streak and are 4-0-1 in their last five games. Their current winning ways have pulled them to a 12-12-3 record after starting the season 3-9-0.
A large part of the Wild’s new-found success is the fresh lease on life that new acquisitions Andrew Ebbett and Guillaume Latendresse have. Ebbett and G-Lat were both castoffs from their prior teams and have found stability with the Wild, each playing a humungous part in the team’s five-game point streak. On top of that, captain Mikko Koivu has five points in his last three games.
While I have no information for the Ducklings, the Wild should be rolling the same offensive lines as they did against Nashville:
The fact that Martin Havlat has been shifted to the team’s fourth line speaks to just how well this team is playing right now. If he wants to move up, he’s going to need to start showing something to the coaching staff. His assist in Wednesday’s game is a good start, but he needs to start showing that he can be the Martin Havlat that led the Blackhawks in points despite playing second-line minutes last season before he can expect to start being shifted up the lineup again.
On defense, the Wild will again look much the same with the exception of John Scott being shifted in for Jamie Sifers against a big, physical team of Duckies.
That Zanon and Zidlicky are the team’s first defensive pairing speaks to just how well these two are playing right now. Despite his blunder in the first period against Nashville, which led to a Jason Arnott goal, Zidlicky is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now. He’s becoming more responsible on defense while being encouraged to jump up into the play on offense. He has one of the best shots on the Wild and is now feeling comfortable enough to pinch up and use it without abandoning his defensive responsibilities.
In net, it looks like we’ll be seeing Niklas Backstrom again, thought it wouldn’t surprise me if the team opted for Harding as a late switch.
What to Watch For
Keep an eye out for Corey Perry in this one. Perry is always dangerous, but should be even more so tonight as he will be looking to get back on the scoresheet after having his 19-game point streak snapped last night against Dallas.
Despite being shut out in the game last night, Perry has 12 points in his last 10 games.
The Quackers will need Perry in this one, as they have dropped seven straight on the road and I would just like to mention that, by pointing that seemingly inane statistic out, I have just doomed the Wild to a night of failure.
Also, keep an eye out for the Wild’s special teams—most notably, if you can spot them.
The Wild’s power play started out strong this season, but with the losses of Brent Burns, Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, as well as absences from Martin Havlat and Antti Miettinen, their power play has fizzled as of late, dropping to 19.3 percent.
The Mallards are an aggressive team and prone to taking penalties, so don’t be surprised if the Wild’s power play unit gets their fair share of action in tonight’s game.
Hopefully that is a good thing for the Wild.
Keys to the Game
The Wild need to stay out of the box.
Against a team as aggressive as the Web-Footed Birds are, it is easy to let yourself fall into the same trap and take retaliation penalties. The Wild need to avoid this at all costs.
More penalties means more time that the Wild can expect to see the unit of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan. The less time those players spend on the ice, the better for the Wild.
Injuries will also play a part.
The Ducks are missing Teemu Selanne, Kyle Calder, Joffrey Lupul and Ryan Carter, while the Wild are still missing Burns, Bouchard and Sykora.
And now I’ll make a few predictions destined to be very, very far from the mark.
First, the Wild will continue their win streak with a 4-3 victory (strike No. 2 against the team in this blog alone).
Second, the newcomers will continue their strong play. Both Latendresse and Ebbett have provided some much-needed scoring punch to the lineup and will continue to do so.
Third, Martin Havlat will start getting back on track. I know this one might be a stretch, but come on, the guy’s due.
There you have it, folks. My extremely unscientific and possibly biased view of tonight’s game.
The puck drops at the X tonight at 7 p.m. CST.