It’s not a do-or-die game for the Minnesota Wild, but after consecutive losses, it sure does feel that way. Currently holding the first Wild Card and seventh spot in the Western Conference, Minnesota is one point ahead of tonight’s opponent, the Phoenix Coyotes.
Coming into the game, the Wild will change things up amongst its forwards. Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle will be reunited on the team’s top line. The line was together for much of last season, but was broken up for the majority of this year with Coyle moving between center and wing.
Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville will play with Nino Niederreiter on the second line. Kyle Brodziak will center Justin Fontaine and Matt Moulson. Stephane Veilleux re-enters the lineup and will play on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Matt Cooke.
Speaking to the media after the team’s morning skate, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo mentioned particularly getting Fontaine and Niederreiter involved more. Of course, Fontaine scored a hat trick a Jobing.com Arena in the Wild’s last outing in the building, becoming the first Wild rookie to do so. For Niederreiter, he’ll be reunited with the Graninoville line that had success earlier in the season.
“We went into this game saying this is what we need and we’re trying to find the right mix,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re trying to get four lines that make sense, four lines to get going and for this particular game this is what we felt we needed.”
That includes a fourth line comprised of three players who kill penalties. Lately, the Wild has struggled while shorthanded goals in five-straight games. So having an extra killer in the lineup in Veilleux will help carry the shorthanded load. Yeo did talk about the importance of staying disciplined against a deadly Yotes power play. Phoenix is third in the National Hockey League on the power play at 20.6 percent.
Healthy scratches up front include Mike Rupp, Cody McCormick and Dany Heatley. This is the first time with the Wild, and in his career, Heatley will be a healthy scratch.
“We’re going to need him again,” Yeo said. “We can see since the Trade Deadline he got reshuffled. He was playing well before the Trade Deadline and you can see confidence is a big factor right now.”
New-Look Power Play
With Heatley out of the lineup, the Wild used a new-look power play at the team’s morning skate. Granlund manned the point with Ryan Suter, while Koivu, Parise and Pominville were the forwards up front. On the second unit, Fontaine, Coyle and Moulson were the forwards with Spurgeon and Brodin. However, you’ll have to wait until tonight to see their strategy, as the Lighthouse has been sworn to secrecy.
Bryzgalov Between the Pipes
Ilya Bryzgalov will get the start in net tonight. The netminder spent three seasons with the Coyotes and has had success against his former team. Bryzgalov is 9-3-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 14 starts against the Coyotes
“This is a team that they’re going to look to get as many pucks to the net as possible,” Yeo said. “So if he can maintain some of that and be big in the net, especially how they like to use the point…for a big guy to be able to see around the traffic or through the traffic and still make himself big is very important.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard joined the team and skated this morning. While this is a promising sign with a banged up blue line, there is not a timetable on his return.