|Nashville Predators||Minnesota Wild|
|5-on-5 Close SF/60||29.8||15th||26.2||26th|
|5-on-5 Close SA/60||27.8||7th||27.8||7th|
|5-on-5 Close Save %||.907||28th||.926||11th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.00||27th||3.12||26th|
|# of PK's/Gm||3.04||6th||3.17||11th|
Outstanding goaltending has been the hallmark of Minnesota's season so far, with Josh Harding carrying the load admirably through the first half of the season. He's been out since New Year's Eve due to illness, and Darcy Kuemper has stepped into the breach, giving the Wild an overall performance in goal that has helped an otherwise mediocre squad post a winning record, and return them to the playoffs for the second straight season.
|2013 - Darcy Kuemper||14||768||7||3||2||32||2.50||392||360||.918||1|
While Ryan Suter is garnering Norris Trophy attention for his work soaking up huge amounts of ice time anchoring the Minnesota defense, the offensive charge is being led by Jason Pominville, who is prospering in his first full season with the Wild.
|2013 - Jason Pominville||58||22||17||39||-3||12||5||0||5||156||14.1|
The big question on many minds is whether Minnesota might be able to swing a trade with the New York Islanders, and reunite Pominville with his old Buffalo running mate Thomas Vanek. That could add a whole new dimension to a Wild team that aims to keep moving forward as a franchise.
Vancouver's tailspin has allowed the Preds to creep within 4 points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and with Pekka Rinne continuing to take baby steps forward in his recovery, the possibility has been raised that the team could make a serious run for the playoffs over the next two months.
Granted, it would be nice if Phoenix, Dallas and Winnipeg all went into the tank like the Canucks have lately, but at least we have the prospect of meaningful hockey coming up, which is surely preferable to the joyless march down the stretch we saw last season.
Even if they don't make the playoffs, however, we may see Shea Weber playing himself into the Norris Trophy (or even Hart Trophy?) race given his play this season. In particular, check out his run over the last 26 games (8 goals, 17 assists since mid-December). Yes, Nashville will probably need to make the post-season for him to get the attention from around the league that would be needed to carry the voting, but those kinds of basic results, like leading the league in goal-scoring by defensemen, certainly helps. After all, they're probably not paying attention to the 5-on-5 possession numbers, which are a bit more concerning - most teammates who play along with the captain see metrics like Corsi or Fenwick take a negative turn.
|2013 - Shea Weber||54||15||23||38||-8||30||9||0||3||133||11.3|
The bottom line for the Preds is that two very important points are on the line tonight. If they truly want to consider themselves in the playoff hunt, they need to go toe-to-toe with the teams they're trying to catch, and Minnesota is just one of many that they'll need to climb past.
In terms of tonight's lineup, John Glennon brought the major news from yesterday's practice:
Spaling out for Preds until after Olympic break ... Cullen and Stalberg have been cleared to play on Thur.— John Glennon (@glennonsports) February 5, 2014
That will certainly help shore up a group of forwards that was looking pretty thin of late. Tune in at 7:00 p.m. tonight and join us in the Game Thread for more Central Division nastiness!
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