After taking down the top team in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild now faces a more dangerous task to begin a nine-day, four-game road trip. Tonight, the Wild gets the Edmonton Oilers, owners of the worst record in the Western Conference and losers of four in their last five. That’s dangerous, and a situation that sets up for an easy letdown should the Wild not be ready for a battle.
It’s a recipe for a letdown because of how well Minnesota played in its final home game before the All-Star break on Sunday. Recently recalled goaltender Anton Khudobin pitched his first NHL shutout while making 32 saves. Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen and John Madden provided more than enough offense. The win pulled the Wild back to within three points of eighth place in the Western Conference.
The Oilers dropped a 3-2 decision on the road in Anaheim on Sunday. After falling behind, 3-0, Edmonton staged a comeback with two late second period goals by Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner, but couldn’t find the net on 12 third period shots. Nikolai Khabibulin fell to 8-19-2 while making 25 stops in the loss.
Wild at Oilers will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 8:30 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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If you can, get down to the bar area outside the Oiler locker room where you can watch the players march out to the ice.
There aren’t many fan bases that want wins as bad as Oiler fans. To get through a harsh Alberta winter, there needs to be something to cheer about. But even a city that is yearning for a repeat of the Gretzky years would by willing to wait through another year if progress was shown on the ice.
After a summer of cleaning house and stockpiling prospects, Oiler fans are getting what they want. The biggest expectations were heaped on 2010 first overall pick, Taylor Hall, who is delivering with a 20-goal pace on the season. Hall is currently playing alongside two major talents in Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, and the trio is showing signs of domination. In a 5-2 win over San Jose on Friday, they combined for three goals and nine points.
Brunette is creeping up on all kinds of milestones, most notably his 1,000th game which likely will be played on February 1st. Brunette is also one goal shy of 250 for his career and one point away from 300 with the Wild. Bruno has picked up a goal in the last two games, including the game-winner on Sunday.
Head Coach Todd Richards faces a dilemma tonight, although it’s one that many coaches would be giddy to have. The Wild currently has three goalies on its trip, and two of them will play the next two nights. Richards could go with Niklas Backstrom against the Oilers tonight. Or, does he want to start Khudobin who is coming off a shutout and can give Backstrom one more day of rest? Or, will Jose Theodore be ready to return from a hip injury to play a role?
It appears the nod will go to Khudobin, who would make his first road start of his NHL career.
The Wild penalty kill unit has given up just one goal in the last nine games, while killing 24-of-25 chances. The last time Minnesota gave up a power play tally in a road game was a 3-1 win in Colorado on December 23. Since then, the Wild has two shorthanded goals, both by Matt Cullen.
Yesterday, the Wild recalled center Cody Almond to provide an extra body on a long road trip. It doesn’t appear that he’ll get into the lineup tonight:
"For me, it’s putting together six good periods of hockey, going back to the Colorado game."
-- Todd Richards on the momentum generated for this road trip, not just by Sunday’s win, but also by a string of solid play despite a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday
D Kurtis Foster spent four seasons with Wild, and scored his first two NHL goals in his first game with the team back in November of 2005. D Tom Gilbert is a former Bloomington Jefferson Jaguar. D Taylor Chorney grew up in Hastings and is a product of Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. LW Ryan Jones was drafted by the Wild in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and was involved in the trade with Nashville that brought Marek Zidlicky to Minnesota. C Sam Gagner’s father, Dave, is a former Minnesota North Star.
The Wild has won 22 games this season, and has been outshot in 21 of them.