Minnesota Wild (5-0-1: 11 points, T-1st in Western Conference, 1st in Northwest Division) at
St. Louis Blues (4-1-0: 8 points, T-4th in Western Conference, T-2nd in Central Division)
***Wild at Blues will not be televised locally, but is available on the NHL Center Ice Package. It can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com***
Since John Davidson took the reins in the St. Louis Blues front office, he has tried an off-ice marketing campaign to win fans back. That’s not going to do as much as what the current Blues on-ice campaign is doing, which is winning fans back by winning games. The Blues are making an early push to be this year’s surprise team, having kicked off the season with four wins in five games.
The Minnesota Wild is the only Western Conference team to start the year better than St. Louis. The Wild dropped its first game in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, but it still has earned a point in every game and sits atop the West with a 5-0-1 record. Pavol Demitra, Mikko Koivu and Brian Rolston scored the goals for the Wild, and Niklas Backstrom tied a season-high with 29 saves.
The Blues won their fourth straight game with a 3-1 home win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. The Blues scored all three goals on the power play, including two from Keith Tkachuk and another from Paul Kariya. Manny Legace stopped 28 of 29 shots for the win.
It doesn’t matter if Wayne Gretzky is skating alongside Brian Rolston’s left side. When this guy is feeling it, and he’s on a two-on-one, he’s not passing. He’s letting that slap shot loose, and how can you blame him? Rolston’s shot is arguably the hardest, most accurate slapper in the League. In each of the last two games, Rolston’s been given just enough room inside the offensive zone, and he’s made no mistake either time.
Wild keys to the game
1. Man Advantageous: The Wild has to begin taking advantage of man advantage situations. Nobody in the Wild locker room is panicking, as the power play has looked good, but hasn’t produced results. That’s fine through six games if the team has five wins, but those power play goals will be needed against contenders, which could very well be the Blues.
2. We Mean It This Time: The Wild took way too many penalties in its last win over Anaheim, but got away with it. It took way too many penalties against the Kings, and wasn’t so lucky. Facing a team with a power play featuring Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya, staying out of the box is imperative.
3. On Alert: After some preseason confrontations, Blues head coach Andy Murray insinuated that the Wild skill players should be “on alert.” It’s doubtful that Murray will send goons after the likes of Marian Gaborik or Demitra, but tonight does figure to be a physical, angry contest.
Keep An Eye On
A sign of a great defenseman is the ability to bounce back from a rough game. Brent Burns struggled mightily on Tuesday, drawing five minor penalties. He’s already said he’s forgotten about it, and we’ll see how that translates in his next game.
Probable Wild Line Combos
With everybody healthy except Dominic Moore, Jacques Lemaire doesn’t figure to tinker too much with his lineup:
It looks as if Josh Harding will be tonight’s starter. Harding has played just once this season – a 2-0 shutout of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
View From the Press Box
It appears that Matt Foy and Petteri Nummelin will be scratched.
Dominic Moore is still recovering from an abdominal strain and likely will not play.
Lemaire Quote of the Day
“As long as we have one more goal than the other team, I’m happy.”
Jacques Lemaire regarding his team’s lack of goals despite a 5-0-1 record
Referees: Chris Rooney and Rob Martell
Linesmen: David Brisebois and Pierre Champoux
If Derek Boogaard picks up a fighting major tonight (which is a fairly safe bet), he will reach the 300 career penalty minute plateau. Only two other Wild players have accomplished that feat: Matt Johnson and Willie Mitchell.
Honorary State of Hockey Residents
David Backes and Steve Wagner are both Minnesota natives who played their college hockey at Minnesota State, Mankato. Rookie phenom Erik Johnson is a Bloomington native, and Dan Hinote played his high school hockey at Elk River.
If You’re Going
There will be a special silent auction to benefit Komen for the Cure St. Louis affiliate.