Returning to Xcel Energy Center after a three-game road trip, the Minnesota Wild welcomes back an old Northwest foe tonight.
The Wild looks to improve its outstanding home record against the National Hockey League’s hottest team, the Vancouver Canucks, winners of seven-straight games. At home, Minnesota has been as comfortable as an old pair of slippers, going 13-3-2 in the State of Hockey.
With the NHL’s realignment, it’s a little odd to be facing the ‘Nucks for the first time in mid-December, but with the way Vancouver has been playing it will be an especially tough test against the old rival. While it's a big game because of the bad blood and past history between the teams, it's also significant in the tight Western Conference with the Wild trailing Vancouver by two points in the standings.
In the last few years, the Canucks have won games on the force of its offense, but Vancouver’s recent success has been on the strength of a stingy defense. The Canucks have only allowed eight goals on its current win streak and killed all 20 penalties against, improving its League-best penalty kill to 90.2 percent.
So goals will be at a premium tonight and one way to gain offensive momentum is via the power play. Of course, the Wild hasn’t been drawing many penalties lately, but something that Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo and Zach Parise had a laugh about in their media availability today. Parise joked that the only penalties opponents are taking right now are high sticks and delay of game penalties when the opposition shoots the puck over the glass in the D-zone. While the club hasn’t been getting many calls lately, the winger admitted the team has had too many “one-and-outs” plays—where the Wild doesn’t sustain the type of pressure in the offensive zone that gets opponents running around and taking hooking and holding penalties.
“We have way too many one-and-outs where you we just try to make one play and you touch the puck and turn it over,” Parise said. “You can’t draw penalties that way.”
“There’s too many times where we’re not holding the puck long enough in the offensive zone so there’s no reason for them to hook or hold on to us because we’re giving away the puck too quickly.”
The Wild’s PP has been solid this season, converting on a shade over 20 percent of its chances, but it’s been tough running lately with the team drawing so few penalties.
“Hopefully we get a couple of power plays,” Yeo said. “The one or two we get a game is tough to get into a rhythm.”
While the Wild will try to create more offense tonight, the club has been consistent in the defensive end, starting with goaltender Josh Harding. The netminder will be in goal tonight, but not before a slight scare at the morning skate. Harding took a puck up high and left the ice momentarily before returning to face more shots.
For the Canucks, Roberto Luongo will be in goal despite his futility at Xcel Energy Center. Luongo is 3-9-2 with a 3.56 goals-against average, a .873 save percentage in 14 starts at Xcel Energy Center. His last start in Saint Paul was Oct. 19, 2010 and he has been pulled in his last three starts at Xcel Energy Center, allowing at least five goals in all three contests.
Trying to put the puck behind Luongo and shut down the high-powered Sedin twins is their former teammate, Keith Ballard. The blueliner spoke to the media about going against his old team for the first time since signing with Minnesota in the offseason. The defenseman has seen plenty of Vancouver’s forwards in practices and will try to use that to his advantage.
Center Mikael Granlund skated with the Wild for the second time today and while there is no timetable for his return, Yeo has been impressed by how the forward has looked. While he didn’t rule out a return in Thursday’s game as Minnesota hits the road to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, he said they’d wait and see how he feels moving forward.
Along with Granlund, defenseman Nate Prosser and forwards Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine will be scratched tonight.
Spread the Holiday Cheer
Get in the giving mood tonight because it marks the last game fans can donate toys or money for this year’s Toys For Tots dive. Wives and girlfriends of the players will be outside all gates of Xcel Energy Center prior to the game to collect donations.
Wild tough guy Zenon Konopka is more than just a pretty face. He’s started a line of wines, ZK28 Wines, and will have a booth stationed near Gate 3, sections 112/113. They’ll be selling gift baskets with the proceeds benefiting the Wild Foundation.