Minnesota Wild players and fans alike have by now heard the news on Mikko Koivu. The all-everything captain of the team will be out a few weeks with a broken finger, but he will be back for the stretch run. Of course, the stretch run has been going on for a couple months now, and it continues tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. Koivu won’t be there, but the Wild has talked about each player possessing the ability to take on more responsibility in his absence.
The Wild played its first game without Koivu on Sunday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Martin Havlat tallied the Wild’s goal, while Niklas Backstrom was on fire in making 38 stops on 39 shots.
The Oilers may own the worst record in the League, but they are playing some very good hockey in the past week. Like other teams in the West, Edmonton has feasted on Eastern Conference foes in two of their last three games – all wins. On Saturday, the Oilers skated past the Atlanta Thrashers as rookie Taylor Hall notched three third-period goals. Magnus Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky also scored for the Oil, which trailed by two goal deficits twice before rallying. Devan Dubnyk earned the win with 28 saves.
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Wild vs. Oilers will be broadcast locally in high definition on KSTC-TV Channel 45 at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on KBGY 107.5 FM, BOB 106.1 FM, or online at Wild.com.
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Get to the game in time for warmups so you can see Wild players pay tribute to our troops by donning camouflage jerseys, which will later be auctioned off to benefit Defending The Blue Line.
After 13 straight games against teams with a 100% or very legitimate chance of making the playoffs, it appeared the Wild would get a brief break in the schedule. But sure enough, the Oilers are looking as good as they’ve looked all season as their rebuilding project centered around Hall appears to be taking shape.
While Hall’s trick on Saturday was the talk of the town, there are several other Oilers picking up their games. In the three consecutive wins, Hemsky has racked up four goals and three assists, while Shawn Horcoff has a goal and four assists in the same span.
Boston’s Tim Thomas, who edged out Backstrom for the Vezina Trophy in 2009, appears to be making another run at the prize. But Backstrom could be giving him another run with another spectacular season. Since January 19, Backstrom is 6-3-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage with two shutouts.
His recent dominance has pushed him into the top ten in the league in goals against (eighth) and in save percentage (third).
More Backstrom. If he can win tonight, he’ll run his home record against the Oilers to 13-0-0, which would extend the longest current home win streak against any one NHL team.
For the Wild to make a run to the postseason, the team needed players to improve on their totals from last season. Nobody in a Wild uniform has improved over the past year than Kyle Brodziak, who has already surpassed his total of nine goals last year and is on his way to shattering his career-high point total of 32 from a year ago.
With Koivu’s absence, Brodziak’s minutes and responsibility are going to skyrocket. At least for the time being, he’ll fill the role of centering the top line with Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen on the wings.
Head Coach Todd Richards has gone with 11 forwards the last two games. He’ll go with that again, but he will shuffle the lines:
Backstrom will get the no-brainer start against the Oilers tonight.
It looks as though Staubitz will be the healthy scratch tonight.
Guillaume Latendresse (abdominal) returned to practice on Monday, but he won’t be back tonight. Koivu (hand) is out of the lineup for the next few weeks.
"It was keno again. The way we pulled the balls out of the hat, it came out that way.”
-- Todd Richards joking about how he came to the decision to put Cullen on the line with Brunette and Miettinen
D Tom Gilbert is from Bloomington and played his high school hockey at Jefferson. D Taylor Chorney is a product of Hastings. D Kurtis Foster played four seasons for the Wild, and scored his first two NHL goals in his first-ever Wild game. LW Ryan Jones is a former Wild draft pick.
The Wild has won 14 straight home meetings against the Oilers by a combined 51-18 score, including four shutouts. During the streak, Edmonton has scored more than two goals just once: a 5-4 Wild win on December 29, 2007.