A snow emergency in the District of Columbia has shutdown the federal government, but the heavy falling flakes just made the commute to the Verizon Center for the Minnesota Wild’s morning skate feel like hockey weather.
Winners of four straight road games, the Wild looks to plow ahead tonight facing the Washington Capitals. It’s the first time the teams have met this season and will clash twice in the month, the second game coming back in the State of Hockey on March 19. However, that’s a long ways away in a hockey season.
Tonight’s contest will feature a battle of strength versus strength, the Wild’s penalty kill against the Caps’ power play. Minnesota’s penalty kill has been the League’s best since Jan. 29, killing 47-of-48 (97.9%) of opponent power play chances in its last 17 games. On the season, the club has the second-best penalty kill (87.0 percent) in the NHL.
Washington owns the second best power play in the league at 23.9 percent. At home, the Caps are clicking at 26 percent.
Defenseman Nate Prosser has been a key to the Wild’s PK success of late. The blueliner left Tuesday’s game due to illness, but is healthy today and ready for the challenge of facing the Caps.
“We’ve been bearing down,” Prosser said. “Trying to get that first exit going down 200 feet.”
The blueliner said that the team’s been excellent of winning faceoffs while shorthanded and icing the puck, which knocks time off the clock. When the opponent does carry in, the Wild’s gap has been slimmer than any bill passing through Congress. If the Caps do gain entry, that’s when Prosser shines.
“Making sure we’re blocking shots and paying the price,” Prosser said. “We’ll have success if we do that.”
The earmark of the Caps’ power play is Alex Ovechkin. The Wild might not have to worry about the high-scoring forward, as he’ll be a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury. However, the Wild is preparing like Ovechkin will be in the lineup.
“You could argue that they’ve got the best goal scorer in the League,” Yeo said. “He does a phenomenal job of finding lanes, finding seams. With his shot, it’s a threat every time.”
“Fear makes the wolf bigger than it is,” Yeo said. “And we have to be sure that we don’t come in here with too much respect for them.
“You have to make sure you’re aggressive in our game and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
Spurgeon Another Day
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon will wait at least one more day before rejoining the lineup. Yeo said that he didn’t want to put the blueliner into a back-to-back situation with the team playing against the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night in Raleigh.
“I’m not 100 percent that he’ll be back in tomorrow,” Yeo said. “But we’ll see how it goes.”
The Wild has acquired three new players in the last week through trades, but has essentially had no practice time (morning skate doesn’t really count because the players are just trying to get their legs warmed up for the day) for the new guys to get acclimated to the team or its systems.
“It’s tough, we’ve got to rely on video,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of teaching moments and things that you can learn throughout the course of the game. The good thing is they’re older players and they’ve been around, so I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for them.”
Making the adjustment together will be fresh forwards Sean Bergenheim and Chris Stewart. The wings flanked captain Mikko Koivu at the team’s morning skate, so expect things to start that way against Washington.
When scoring first, Washington’s record is better than any politician’s on Capitol Hill. The Caps are a ridiculous 30-1-4 when notching the game’s first goal.
Conversely, The Wild has scored the first goal in 14 of its last 17 games and has won 15 of its last 16 games when it has scored first. Overall, the team is 28-6-3 when striking first.
“We’ve had good starts but we’ve understood that is setting the game up,” Yeo said.
No Decision In Net For Tomorrow
Yeo said that he hasn’t come to a decision in regards to tomorrow’s starting goaltender against the Canes. Devan Dubnyk will get his 22nd straight start in goal tonight. The bench boss said he’d make his decision based on tonight’s game.