Defenseman Justin Falk and center Cody Almond are leaving the hottest team in the American Hockey League, and joining one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League. Falk and Almond were recalled this morning from the first place Houston Aeros, who won last night for the 11th time in 14 games. They’ll join the Wild, which will look for its seventh win in eight games against the Phoenix Coyotes tonight. Falk and Almond were brought in due to injuries to defenseman Cam Barker and Matt Cullen. Both Barker and Cullen are expected to be available tonight.
The Wild won its third game in a row on Tuesday night in a 4-3 road victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Playing in his 1,001st game, Andrew Brunette scored two goals, while Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored. Jose Theodore made his first start since January 11 and earned the win after stopping 38 shots.
The Wild and Coyotes have intersected as they head in different directions. The two teams are tied for seventh in the Western Conference, but the Coyotes have dropped six of their last eight, including a 6-0 trouncing at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
Wild at Coyotes will be broadcast locally in high definition on KSTC-TV Channel 45 at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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There will be a large contingent of Wild fans that made the journey to the desert as part of the latest fan trip. The group will arrive this afternoon, which is a good thing. They’ll be able to make it to the game in time to enjoy beer, soda and hot dogs for $1. As if it couldn’t get any better, the first 10,000 fans will receive wearable blankets, which should help during the frigid nighttime temps of 50 degrees.
Phoenix rose back to relevance last year due to the stellar play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Once again, the Coyotes are going where their goalie takes them, whether they like it or not. Despite the fact that Bryzgalov has started the last 11 games and is 1-4-0 with a .886 save percentage in his last five, he’s expected to get another start and will be relied on to get his team back to its winning ways.
Is there any more underrated player on the Wild than Brodziak? The guy gets overlooked when he's playing on a line with Martin Havlat or Cal Clutterbuck or Pierre-Marc Bouchard. But he's also been the guy to help bring out the talent of those guys. Quietly, Brodziak has been bring the offense, and on Thursday he became the seventh Wild player to hit the 10-goal mark.
The Western Conference is packed with teams jostling for position every night, and two points can mean the difference between about five spots in the standings. Phoenix appears to be one of those teams that will be in it, but they are also vulnerable at this stage. The Wild has the chance to deal a critical blow to a fragile team coming off two disappointing losses to San Jose and Vancouver.
In becoming one of the most prolific scorers in Wild history, Bouchard built that reputation on piling up assists due to his spectacular playmaking ability. Since returning on December 1 against Phoenix, Bouchard is starting to build a reputation as a late-game closer. Four of Bouchard’s five goals have come in the third period, and have either tied the game or provided much needed insurance in a one-goal game. He also came through in the clutch earlier in the week by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 shootout win over Los Angeles. If things get tight again tonight, look for Bouchard to make a difference.
Cullen and John Madden missed practice yesterday, but both skated this morning and are expected to be in the lineup tonight:
Barker injured his eye during a fight on Thursday, but he also is expected to be ready to go tonight:
After getting a night off, Niklas Backstrom will return to the cage against a team he’s beaten 10 out of 15 times and has shut out four times.
Falk and Almond are here if needed, but it doesn’t appear that either will be used.
Madden (lower body) and Barker (eye) are probable for tonight. Cullen (upper body) is considered questionable. Guillaume Latendresse (abdominal) and Marek Zidlicky (shoulder) are progressing, but neither will be in the lineup in the near future. Marco Scandella (concussion) has not progressed any further and will remain unavailable.
""You were that age one time, weren’t you? When you’re young, and you get the chance to play in the NHL, I think you can play under any circumstance.”
-- Todd Richards whether Falk or Almond can be ready after playing last night in Houston and flying in this morning.
C Eric Belanger spent parts of three seasons with the Wild. C Andrew Ebbett was a Wild waiver pickup early last season.
The Wild has claimed points in 10 of the past 12 road games (9-2-1) for the third time in team history.