With so many Western Conference teams packed together like cars on a sleet-covered Minnesota freeway, it seems like every game is a chance for the Minnesota Wild to catch a team in the standings. The Wild missed a chance to surpass the Nashville Predators on Friday, but another opportunity (and one of the last for awhile) awaits Minnesota tonight when it hosts the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes sit one position ahead of the Wild by a margin of just two points.
The Wild couldn’t solve the Predators and goaltender Pekka Rinne until it was too late on New Year’s Eve. Chuck Kobasew scored with just under two minutes to play to cut Nashville’s lead to 2-1, but two empty netters later, the Wild had just its second regulation loss in the last seven games. Niklas Backstrom stopped 28 shots in a losing effort.
The Coyotes also dropped their final contest of 2010 by falling on the road in St. Louis, 4-3. After falling behind 4-0, Shane Doan scored two goals and Lauri Korpikoski picked up another to stage a rally that stopped one tally short. Ilya Bryzgalov gave up all four goals and stopped 18 shots in the loss.
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Wild vs. Coyotes will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 5:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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The first of 10 Minnesota Wild Top Moments commemorative pucks will be given away to the first 3,500 fans through the gates tonight.
In the West, where almost every team boasts an above .500 record, consistency is what is keeping the lower seven out of the top eight. The Wild has struggled with it, and so have the Coyotes. Since rattling off a seven-game win streak that ended on November 23, the Yotes haven’t been able to win more than two games in a row.
Phoenix is led as always by Shane Doan. In the last three games, Doan has lit the lamp five times and he’s got eight points (5-3=8) on his current five game point streak.
Kobasew’s goal on Friday gives him a tally in each of the past three games, and brings his point total during that stretch to four. The streak matches the longest of Kobasew’s career, which he’s reached three other times.
Today’s game will be the team’s first of 2011, but one of the very few January games played at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild starts a three-game road trip to the East beginning on Tuesday, and will play just three more home games in the month of January.
With an extended absence expected for Marek Zidlicky, the Wild will be missing a key component with the man advantage. The Wild power play struggled on New Year’s Eve and a solution will need to be found for the Wild to keep its solid power play numbers.
Cal Clutterbuck was held out of the lineup on Friday because of a nagging injury. He did skate yesterday and will be a gametime decision:
Backstrom is still dealing with the effects of a lower-body injury and was held out of practice yesterday. Jose Theodore is expected to get the start.
If Clutterbuck does return, one forward will have to be scratched along with Clayton Stoner.
Guillaume Latendresse (abdominal) and Zidlicky (shoulder) are out. Clutterbuck and Backstrom are questionable.
""It wasn't to the level I know we can play at. To me, the players set the bar the other night against San Jose. So it's a level they can get to. Now, it's getting that every single night."
-- Todd Richards on his team not matching its performance from two nights earlier
C Eric Belanger spent two-plus seasons with the Wild before being traded to Washington last March.
With Theodore getting the start, he could aim to score the first goal by a goaltender in Wild history. Sure, it’s an odd thing to look out for, but today marks the 10-year anniversary of Theodore scoring the only goal by a goaltender in the illustrious history of the Montreal Canadiens.