|Minnesota Wild||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Close SF/60||27.0||25th||29.7||13th|
|5-on-5 Close SA/60||27.0||6th||27.5||7th|
|5-on-5 Close Save %||.923||17th||.908||27th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.15||22nd||3.04||27th|
|# of PK's/Gm||3.13||10th||3.11||9th|
Stats-wise these are pretty similar teams outside of the goaltending. #GetWellPekka
Minnesota has been a streaky team of late, losing six straight in regulation before ripping off a four-game winning streak which came to a halt last night against Colorado. Right now they're pretty much in a dead heat with Phoenixfor the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but come into tonight's game pretty banged up, with four important players on Injured Reserve: captain Mikko Koivu, winger Zach Parise, defenseman Jared Spurgeon and goaltender Josh Harding.
As the folks over at Hockey Wilderness say, however, this adversity presents opportunities for promising young players to step into a larger role:
Injuries throughout the lineup have forced some of the kids to bigger roles than they were perhaps assumed to have at this point, and some of the "role players" are asked to perhaps play in a role they're not that familiar with. At least not at the NHL level.
The guys who the Wild really, really need to produce during these tough times? Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund. These 1st round picks need to make sure that the potential we all know they have, translates into numbers on the score sheet while Zach Parise andMikko Koivu aren't with the team.
With Harding out, and Niklas Backstrom having played last night against the Avalanche, is it possible that the Preds might face the 3rd man on the depth chart, Darcy Keumper, tonight? In his last outing, he stopped 39 shots from Los Angeles and stoned all comers in the shootout to earn a win for the Wild.
The bottom line here is that the Wild are shorthanded and tired, having traveled from Minnesota late last night. They are a team ripe for the taking.
Last night's shootout loss to Ottawa at least notched another point in the standings, keeping those ever-so-faint playoff hopes alive for the time being.
The key to tonight's game, OBVIOUSLY, is for one of the Predators to get in a fight following the opening faceoff, to inspire the team to play well right from the start. Eric Nystrom's scrap is getting heaps of credit for motivating the Preds to score the tying goal last night (we know this worked because Nashville scored the next goal - it's a good thing the Senators didn't get pumped up instead).
When it comes to the lineup, the defense will come under focus after Mattias Ekholm made a bad giveaway which led to a goal against - will he get benched in favor of Victor Bartley, who hasn't played since December 27th? Also, since the team is playing on back-to-back nights, might Carter Hutton get his first start since being roasted by Barry Trotz a week ago?
Just remember, we have another early 6:00 p.m. start tonight, so make sure to come back for the Game Thread and let's see if the Preds can take advantage of a bruised & battered divisional rival.