Minnesota Wild (0-0-0: 0 points, T-5th in Western Conference, T-2nd in Northwest Division) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0: 0 points, T-5th in Western Conference, T-2nd in Central Division) ***Wild vs. Blackhawks will be broadcast on KSTC.TV Channel 45 at 7:30 PM, and can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com***
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A summer spent stewing and coming to grips with the fact that Brad May, Chris Pronger, Ryan Getzlaf and Randy Carlyle got to spend a day with the Stanley Cup is over. Now, 30 teams will be fighting for that honor, and the Minnesota Wild sees no reason to believe that it won’t be the team taking the Cup on boat rides, public events and night clubs.
Of course, for now it is one game at a time, and that first game comes tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks. On paper (or the computer screen you’re reading this on), things seem to favor the Wild. Minnesota has never lost a home opener and has won five straight. The Wild has beaten Chicago 17 times (more than any other opponent), and has earned a victory in 13 of the last 16 meetings. The Wild won both preseason games that the two teams played last month.
Minnesota finished the preseason with a 5-2-0 record. After a dismal performance against Detroit in the exhibition opener, the Wild appeared to be clicking on offense, strong on defense and solid at the goaltender position. Pavol Demitra paced the club with nine points, and we promise that this is the last time we’ll bring up the preseason.
The Blackhawks process of rebuilding appears to be rounding into shape. The highly-touted Jonathan Toews is scheduled to play tonight. The former Fighting Sioux joins a slew of young talent that includes Patrick Sharp, Rene Bourque, Tuomo Ruutu and Patrick Kane. Those kids will learn from talented veterans like Martin Havlat, Martin Lapointe and Robert Lang.
Demitra’s stellar performance in training camp earned him the captain’s “C” for the month of October. Last season, Demitra took off when Marian Gaborik returned from injury to play the other wing on his line. The two are back with Wes Walz at center, making a night without a goal from that line a disappointment.
Wild keys to the game
1. Center Of Attention: Walz has been with the Wild from the start, and he’s always drawn attention from his work ethic and speed on the ice. Tonight, perhaps for the first time, all eyes will be on him to see if he can handle the responsibility of centering two of the most dynamic offensive players in the League. 2. New Look: The Blackhawks are one of just a few teams that didn’t make drastic changes to their uniforms (thankfully). The Hawks do look different. They look like a potent offensive lineup. If Sergei Samsonov can regain his once-dynamic offensive prowess. 3. Defense Never Rests: With three very dangerous lines, this figures to be the Wild’s best offensive team in history. That won’t please Head Coach Jacques Lemaire unless his team can be even better defensively. It’s hard to get much better than last year, when Minnesota led the NHL in goals against.
Keep An Eye On
Brent Burns begins his fourth NHL season tonight, but this is the year that he’s expected to be the stud blueliner on this squad. The Wild has enough steady defensemen in Keith Carney, Nick Schultz and Martin Skoula. Burns will be counted on to increase the scoring production from the back end, which he did by scoring a hat trick in the preseason finale.
Probable Wild Line Combos
Jacques Lemaire has always has liquidity in his line combinations, but it appears he’s got four set lines to start the season:
Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Eric Belanger – Brian Rolston Mark Parrish – Mikko Koivu – Branko Radivojevic Pavol Demitra – Wes Walz – Marian Gaborik Stephane Veilleux – Dominic Moore – Derek Boogaard