The “Happiest Place on Earth” is right down the highway, but the Minnesota Wild (and Lighthouse) couldn’t be giddier about getting back into game action–five days after its last outing, a 3-0 road win against the Colorado Avalanche. Tonight, the Wild skates in the land of Mickey and Minnie, as the club faces the Anaheim Ducks.
For the Wild, it will be important to get off to a good start after the layoff and back up to game speed.
“Making sure that our battle level, our intensity and our pace of play is ready to go from the drop of the puck,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “When you’re playing the games and you’re in the swing of it you’re already at that speed.”
One player who will need to find the pace quickly is Justin Fontaine. The forward skates in his first game of the year after suffering a lower-body injury during training camp. He’ll be on a line with Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek.
The unit played together in preseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins and looked like they were on the same page in the offensive zone. However, Koivu knows how difficult it can be to get back into game speed after missing significant time with an injury.
“With Justin, you’ve got to give him time,” Koivu said. “It’s never easy to jump into the game, but we’ll give him time to used to it and help him as much as we can. Work together as a line and help each other out.”
The game and facing the Ducks might be a little easier for Koivu than it has in the past. This summer, his older brother, Saku, retired from the NHL and Anaheim.
Mikko said it will be a little weird not seeing him out there, but is proud of all he accomplished and the respect he garnered during his 18-year career.
“To be honest, I think it’s going to be a little bit easier going into the game and knowing that he’s not lining up against you,” the Wild captain said. “It was fun, but at the same time it was tough to match up against him and to play against him was a little bit different.”
Another new unit for tonight’s contest against the Ducks will be the fourth line. Ryan Carter, who started his career in Anaheim, will move to center tonight between Matt Cooke and Jason Zucker. Carter said that he wants to play a smart, simple game, especially since it’s on the road. Along with playing down low in the defensive zone, taking faceoffs will be a focal point, but will lean on his wingers for help.
“They’re a big difference,” Carter said. “If they win one or two a night for you it’s a 10-15 percent difference on the stat sheet and that’s huge.”
Yeo said that he hasn’t been disappointed in Brodziak’s games thus far, and right now the lineup is a matter of fit.
“We’re a deeper team, so we’ve had some healthy guys out of the lineup already,” Yeo said. “We want to create the idea that guys are pushing each other.
“The message is simple: Work hard today and be ready for the next one.”
Tonight is the Ducks’ first home game of the season following a four-game road trip. The team will go through typical opening night ceremonies, pregame parties, unveiling of new game operations and player introductions. Auspiciously missing from the pomp and circumstance will be a banner raising ceremony. The Ducks, reigning Pacific Division champs, already have its 2014 banner hanging in the Honda Center.
“We don’t want to make a big deal about it,” Anaheim Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If you don’t go further than that, nobody cares about it.”
The team started the season much like it played last regular season, opening up 3-1-0 away from home. Boudreau knows the Wild is coming in on a high note after taking the first two games of the season, while netminder Darcy Kuemper has yet to allow a goal.
“They’re feeling pretty good about themselves; they haven’t given up a goal this year,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think they’re going to go 82 games without giving up a goal. I don’t think we’re licking our chops wanting to score on them. We just want to come out and play hard and hopefully it’s good enough to win.”
The Wild goes against a stingy Ducks team with a good young goaltender in their own right, Frederik Andersen, who has gone 3-0-0, with a 1.95 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
“He competes, he makes the big save at the right time,” Boudreau said. “He’s doing what he did for us last year.”