As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt; and there’s no denying it applies to the Wild’s latest opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions have made their way to Minnesota for the second time this season (of three meetings in Saint Paul). Tonight’s matchup will mark the 11th time the Hawks and Wild have faced off in the 2013 calendar year — which includes five playoff contests.
“We’ve played those guys enough in the past six months to know what to expect,” Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “And we expect, obviously, their best. It’s a good rivalry. They’re intense games and we have a great deal of respect for them — their team and how they play — it’s a good challenge.”
Over those ten contests, the Wild went 3-7-0 with a 5-1 loss in the most recent tilt on Oct. 28 at Xcel Energy Center, two nights after the Wild captured a 5-3 victory in Chicago.
Though they’ve seen each other often, center Kyle Brodziak admits it doesn’t get any easier.
“They’re one of the elite teams in the league,” Brodziak said. “They’ve proven that, consistently, they’re going to play well every night. But at the same time, it doesn’t change what we’re planning on doing and our goal coming into the night.”
Like last time, the matchup will provide the Wild with a good test to see how it’s truly faring. The Wild admittedly hit a slump recently, but started to turn things around last Saturday in Colorado where it felt it was playing a strong game and executing the right way. Minnesota walked away with a shootout loss (after scoring two goals in the final two and a half minutes to tie the game), but the result wasn’t completely indicative of how the team battled.
Monday night, the Wild continued to carry its revamped game onto the ice and earned a 2-0 shutout over Philadelphia. According to Yeo, the last couple of games have been good, but the Wild need to find a way to keep it going and stay consistent.
“With the team they have, it’s obviously a big test for us,” Mikko Koivu said. “We still want to get better and I think we’re going in the right direction after a couple bad games. But like I said, we want to get better and it’s a good test for us. We have to play disciplined; all the little things matter tonight.”
Especially considering how dangerous Chicago is on the road. The Blackhawks currently own a 11-3-1 road record while riding a six-game win streak away from its home barn. That effort is led by, who else, Patrick Kane, with 32 points this season (16-16=32), 19 of which he’s picked up on the road (10-9=19).
But Kane is surprisingly minus-1 on the season at the moment — one of only three Hawks with a minus rating.
Following Kane is Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews with 25 points (12-13=25), with 14 points on the road (6-8=14). Unlike Kane, Toews is plus-10 on the season.
In comparison, the Wild is led by Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu’s 23 points so far this season. Parise has netted 11 goals (11-12=23) where Koivu has tallied six (6-17=23). The highest rating on the team is owned by Marco Scandella, who sits at plus-9, followed by Nino Niederreiter’s plus-7.
The difference lies in the fact that when Chicago scores, it scores often. The lowest scoring game the Blackhawks has played this season was a 2-1 contest, which it played on three occasions — all wins, over the Sabres, Canucks and Stars (shootout win) respectively.
Meanwhile the Wild, have played six three-goal games, going 4-1-1 in those tilts, which included a shootout win over the Maple Leafs and a shutout loss at Saint Louis. The Wild also own a pair of 2-0 shutout wins this season.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons over there offensively, both up front and on the backend,” Yeo said of Chicago. “We’ve got to be sharp in all areas of our game. How we defend without the puck is going to be crucial tonight. They’re a very dangerous team off the rush, they’re very good in the offensive zone, they shoot the puck, they go to the net; there’s a lot of challenges there. On top of that we have to make sure we’re executing the right way.”
Yeo added that if the Wild don’t execute well and if it finds itself defending too much, eventually its going to come back to haunt Minnesota, no matter how well it defends.
The key for the Wild tonight is simply staying in an aggressive mindset, according to Brodziak.
“I think that when we do that, the other parts of our game come together,” Brodziak said. “That’s something we’ve got to bring every night. When we’re playing aggressive … that’s when we have success and that’s what we’ve got to do right from the drop of the puck.”
Tonight the Wild is expected to be without one of its most overtly aggressive guys, forward Zenon Konopka. He is expected to be a healthy scratch as it appears Haula will center the fourth line with Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine on his wings. Yeo never explicitly confirmed this move, so changes may occur prior to puck drop.
The bench boss noted Haula’s speed, particularly in a game that is anticipated to have a fast pace, which allows the Wild to be a little more flexible with the fourth line.
Don’t Forget Your Toys
The Wild will once again be collecting Toys For Tots at Xcel Energy Center gates prior to tonight’s game. The Wild’s Wives and Girlfriends will be present to collect any toys or monetary donations. Click here for more details.