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Wild Hosts Oilers In 1,000th Game

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

When Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was asked if he was ready to put Tuesday behind him this morning, he kept a straight face and cracked, “yeah, it’s Thursday.”

A short round of chuckles ensued.

All jokes aside, Yeo and co., are looking forward to putting a 3-0 loss squarly in the rearview mirror tonight as the Wild hosts old Northwestern Division rival, the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers come to Saint Paul fresh off a busy day of trades in which they picked up goaltender Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles for a 2014 third round draft pick and forward Matt Hendricks from Nashville in exchange for goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Scrivens is slated to start tonight, marking the first time he will ever face the Wild. He has a 7-5-4 record this season with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.

Tonight marks the Wild’s 1,000th game in franchise history, against a fitting opponent with which Minnesota has so much history. The Wild holds a 41-23-9 edge, all-time, over the Oilers with a 23-11-2 advantage at Xcel Energy Center.

The last time these two teams faced off was Game 47 of last season as the Wild were looking to clinch a playoff spot. As Yeo noted today, the Wild considered it a must-win game, but focused too much on the final decision it needed, not the opponent. As a result the Wild lost 6-1.

“We had an ok start until their first shot went in the net. Then we completely unraveled,” Yeo said. “That’s what our mindset has to be tonight; to focus on the process of our game, to focus on going out and playing a real solid 60 minutes. … Having the trust that if you do that, the result that you’re setting out to grab is going to be there for you.

Edmonton also suffered a loss Tuesday night — a 5-2 affair in Dallas. The club has lost four straight on the road with a 7-17-3 record away from home this season. They also hold a 4-9-0 record against Central Division opponents.

Overall, Edmonton rounds out the bottom of the Western Conference with 35 points on the season. Only Buffalo has fewer points in the NHL, with 32.

Despite their record, tonight the Oilers have more players in their lineup with more than 10 goals than the Wild; they have four to the Wild’s two — Jason Pominville (18) and Justin Fontaine (11). Dany Heatley and Nino Niederreiter fall just short of the mark as each have nine.

Pominville also leads the Wild’s active roster in points with 31 (18-13=31) on the season. Meanwhile the Oilers have four players that eclipse that mark: Taylor Hall with 45 (18-27=45), Jordan Eberle with 37 (14-23=37), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 36 (13-23=36) and David Perron with 34 (17-17=34).

But, as the Wild rank 26th in the league in scoring with 2.3 goals per game, they’re 10th in the league only allowing 2.4 goals per game. Edmonton on the other hand ranks dead last with a 3.5 goals allowed per game.

Aiding in the Wild’s effort tonight is Keith Ballard as he steps back into the lineup. The blueliner has been a healthy scratch for the last four games and saw limited ice time in Los Angeles, clocking only 9:39 TOI, his second-lowest of the season. As any healthy scratch will admit, sitting out isn’t fun, but he always tried to be a good teammate and continue to work hard.

“I’m very happy,” Ballard said of being in the lineup. “It’s frustrating. You obviously want to play. The guys played well, we got on a little streak there — we won four straight, we won five out of seven. It’s up to me to just come in and do my job. The guys, aside from last game, have played pretty well recently. So just try to have that seamless transition and fit back in.”

Ballard will step in on the left side with Clayton Stoner on his right.

Darcy Kuemper will get this third-straight start tonight for the Wild. He is 2-1-0 since his call-up Jan. 2 with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage. Yeo said the decision to put Kuemper in net was simply to give him another shot.

“I liked his game,” Yeo said of Kuemper’s outing Tuesday. “He gave us a chance in that game, he kept us in there. … I thought he played a very good game so it’s just a matter of showing a little confidence in him and seeing if he can come back with another solid effort.”

In other news, today is Jason Zucker’s 22nd birthday. As much as the moment calls for a Taylor Swift reference, I’ll spare you.

Also, whether you’re going to the game tonight or watching from afar — or aren’t watching but want to follow the action, be sure to follow @mnwildLIVE for in-game updates, commentary and general fun.

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