Minnesota Wild (6-0-1: 13 points, T-1st in Western Conference, 1st in Northwest Division) vs.
Colorado Avalanche (4-3-0: 8 points, T-8th in Western Conference, 3rd in Northwest Division)
***Wild vs. Avalanche will start at 6:00 PM, and not 5:00 PM as originally scheduled. The game will be broadcast on FSN North and can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com***
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Minnesota Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire was the first to point out the flaws in his team despite not having lost in regulation. There were some power play struggles. There were the penalty issues. There were some ugly turnovers in the defensive zone. So what’s going to happen with this team when all of those problems are corrected, like they were on Saturday night?
The Wild played a relatively mistake-free game and turned in a complete performance in a 3-1 road victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Eric Belanger tallied the game-winning goal and an assist, while Pavol Demitra and Brent Burns also scored. Josh Harding improved his record to 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals against average.
The Avs have been unable to put it together on the road this year, having been outscored 13-4 in three games away from Pepsi Center. Colorado was thumped by a 5-3 score in Chicago on Friday night. Ryan Smyth, Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos scored goals for the Avalanche, while Jose Theodore made 22 saves.
While his fellow Wild defensemen have yet to score a goal this season, Burns has picked up the slack. He scored his third goal of the season last night, giving him seven since March 11 of last year. That leads all NHL defensemen.
Wild keys to the game
1. Hi And Goodbye: The Wild hasn’t experienced the comfort of a game played at the Xcel Energy Center in 10 days, and it will be another eight after today before it does again. The team has had success on the road, but needs to avoid a letdown at home where it’s rabid fan base will want to see what they’ve watched on TV the past week and a half.
2. Get to the Third: With Niklas Backstrom and Harding shutting the door, the Wild is practically assured a win with a third period lead. But if not, the Wild is still outscoring its opponents 6-1 in the final stanza this year.
3. New Sheriff Out West: Joe Sakic has been THE man ever since the Avalanche came to Denver from Quebec in the mid-nineties. How much longer he’ll be there is unknown, but it doesn’t look like Colorado will miss a beat with young Paul Stastny stepping into the role of offensive stud. He leads the Avs in scoring with five goals and nine assists and he’ll be drawing the attention of the Wild’s top-ranked defense.
Keep An Eye On
It won’t be hard to keep an eye on Mikko Koivu. He seemingly plays center on every line. Koivu has the confidence of Jacques Lemaire to be used in any situation, and he is. Koivu sees time with just about every Wild wing, and he’s thriving. Koivu had nine shots on goal last night, and just missed three to four sure goals thanks to spectacular saves by many Legace.
Look for Backstrom to get in there in the second of back-to-back games.
View From the Press Box
Matt Foy and one defenseman are the likely scratches.
Dominic Moore is still recovering from an abdominal strain and likely will not play.
Lemaire Quote of the Day
“What a difference. We played as a team, you could see that.”
Jacques Lemaire to the Star Tribune, talking as if he’s been coaching a team that hadn’t won a game before last night.
Referees: Chris Rooner and Don VanMassenhoven
Linesmen: Mike Cvik and Lyle Seitz
The Wild has given up three even strength goals in 425 minutes of action this season.
Honorary State of Hockey Residents
Jeff Finger and Tyler Arnason are both former St. Cloud State Huskies. Former Wild center Wyatt Smith is a Minnesota native and former Gopher, as is Jordan Leopold. Kurt Sauer is a native of St. Cloud. And, of course there’s former Wild winger Andrew Brunette.
If You’re Going
Please remember that tonight’s game starts at 6:00 PM and not 5:00 PM as originally scheduled. Gates will open at 4:30 PM.