Minnesota Wild (7-2-2: 16 points, 2nd in Western Conference, 1st in Northwest Division) vs.
Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-1: 11 points, T-7th in Eastern Conference, 2nd in Atlantic Division)
***Wild vs. Penguins will be broadcast nationally on Versus at 6:00 PM, and can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com***
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The fact that tonight’s Minnesota Wild game against the Pittsburgh Penguins sold out in less than 10 minutes should tell you everything you need to know. Sidney Crosby is in town for the first time in his NHL career. Tonight will mark Pittsburgh’s first visit to Minnesota since the Wild won, 4-1 back in January of 2004. The last times the two teams squared off was in Crosby’s rookie season, when the Wild left Pittsburgh with a 5-0 victory.
While the Crosby show is fun, the Wild has more pressing issues than a mini-homecoming for a former Shattuck St. Mary’s star. Minnesota returns home after a winless three-game road trip, in which just one point was accumulated. The Wild dropped a 3-1 decision to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Eric Belanger tallied Minnesota’s only goal.
The Penguins have dropped their last two games, including a 4-3 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Crosby, Petr Sykora and Ryan Whitney accounted for the goals. Not one Penguin was able to light the lamp in an eight round shootout.
James Sheppard had a two-game point streak snapped in Sunday’s loss, but with every game, the Wild rookie is looking more comfortable. After scoring his first goal on Thursday, Sheppard saw a season-high 12:00 of ice time Sunday, including a healthy amount of power play shifts.
Wild keys to the game
1. Youth Movement: With Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik out at least one more game, the Wild has to get production from elsewhere. That means players like Sheppard, Stephane Veilleux, Matt Foy and Cal Clutterbuck are going to be responsible to chip in a point or two.
2. Attention Grabbers: Crosby may get all the attention from the media, but that better not be the case on the ice. With the big, powerful and highly skilled Evgeni Malkin on Crosby’s wing, Wild players better not get stuck watching number 87, and 87 only.
3. Home Cookin’: The Wild played seven of its last eight games on the road, and will finally enjoy an extended stay in St. Paul. Tonight kicks off a four-game homestand, and the team will be able to stay here until November 10.
Keep An Eye On
You should know by now who you should watch tonight.
Probable Wild Line Combos
Head Coach Jacques Lemaire will keep the BBR Me ASAP line together unless he needs to shift some offense around:
Niklas Backstrom remains out with a groin injury. Josh Harding will get the start and will be backed up by Nolan Schaefer.
View From the Press Box
Carney is expected to be the only healthy scratch.
Dominic Moore is still recovering from an abdominal strain and remains day-to-day. It appears that Demitra and Gaborik are close, but not tonight. Backstrom is also day-to-day.
Referees: Mike Leggo and Dean Warren
Linesmen: Darren Gibbs and Mark Wheler
Lemaire’s Quote of the Day
“I would like to play them eight times in a year. But there are 28 other teams that want him too.”
-- Jacques Lemaire on whether he’d like to see Crosby and the Penguins in Minnesota more than once every three years
The Wild definitely won more games last year with Gaborik in the lineup, but here’s a surprising stat. In 34 games without him, the Wild was 15-17-2, but averaged 2.79 goals per game. With him, Minnesota was 33-9-6, but averaged 2.71 goals per game.
Honorary State of Hockey Residents
Crosby played a year of prep hockey at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Fairbault. Ryan Malone is a former St. Cloud State Husky. Adam Hall played the second half of last season with the Wild.
If You’re Going
Kid’s 14 and under are encouraged to wear their costumes and swing by the Community Relations booth for trick-or-treating prior to game time.