The top of the Western Conference standings is more packed than I-94 during rush hour. Tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues kicks off a tough week for the Wild, where the Minnesota will face the Phoenix Coyotes (14-5-4, 32 points) and then skate in a home-and-home series with the surprising Colorado Avalanche (17-5-0, 34 points).
With a regulation win tonight, the Wild would leapfrog the Blues in the tight Central Division. However, tonight’s task will be a tough matchup for the Wild. Last season, Minnesota went 0-2-1 against St. Louis. The Blues are a physical team, but Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wants to dictate play tonight.
“We’re at our best when we’re focused on ourselves,” Yeo said. “We don’t want to get pulled into the way the other team wants to play it.”
That being said, the Wild will have a physical element rejoining the team today. Forward Mike Rupp will be inserted into the lineup for the first time this season. He returns from a lower-body injury after a conditioning stint in Iowa, with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate. Rupp is in for Mikael Granlund, who will miss his second-straight game with an upper-body injury. With Rupp moving into the lineup, the Wild has placed Torrey Mitchell on Injured Reserve. Mitchell has missed two games with a lower-body injury.
“It’s pretty tough to tell in a morning skate,” Yeo said about how Rupp looked this morning. “We’ve got to see him in some game action, but we’re anxious to have him back and his teammates are, too.”
On the blue line, Nate Prosser will be the team’s sixth defenseman. Rookie Matt Dumba will be tonight’s healthy scratch, while Keith Ballard is still on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury. Yeo likes the physical element Prosser will bring against a large forward group from the Blues.
“We expect a heavy game; we expect them to get into the offensive zone and get to the net,” Yeo said. “We want some of the elements that (Prosser) brings.”
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom will get his second-straight start in net. Backstrom is 6-8-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average, a .895 save percentage and one shutout in 15 starts against the Blues. Josh Harding returned to Minnesota yesterday and had an MRI, which was negative. However, the netminder stayed in the State of Hockey, so Darcy Kuemper will be the backup.