It's not really fair, but it's just the way things are in the NHL's Western Conference these days: you better not go long between wins, otherwise your parking spot for the postseason will be given to someone else. So, it's with that harsh reality that Minnesota closes out this quick, two-game road trip tonight in Anaheim. The Wild may be 11-5-1 in its last 17 games and have one of the NHL's best records in 2011, but it can't put too much value on those stats when it is tied with five other teams for sixth place in the Western Conference.
As Minnesota learned last night in Los Angeles, lose and you'll be leapfrogged in the standings. The Wild may be on the upswing recently, but that means jack squat when you're facing a conference opponent in the tightest of games. Each game is a completely fresh slate and almost always is a guaranteed battle. And a battle it was last night in L.A., which caused the Wild to recall center Warren Peters and reassign defenseman Nate Prosser to Houston this morning.
The Wild saw its three-game point streak end last night against the Kings with a 4-2 loss. Eric Nystrom and Brent Burns scored for the Wild, but Wayne Simmonds scored two goals and L.A. used an empty-net goal to secure the victory in their first game home following a 10-game road trip. Niklas Backstrom stopped 26-of-29 shots in the loss, while Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves in the win.
The Ducks faced off against their rival, Los Angeles, in the most recent chapter in the battle of SoCal Wednesday. Anaheim allowed only 18 Kings shot but still found themselves on the losing end of things, falling to L.A. 3-2 and dropping their fourth straight game. Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry scored for the Ducks, while Curtis McElhinney earned the loss after stopping 15-of-18 shots.
Wild at Ducks will be broadcast locally in high definition on FOX Sports North at 9:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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Looking at Anaheim's goalie situation makes you realize how lucky Wild fans are. Ducks starting goalie and NHL All-Star Jonas Hiller has been sidelined since earlier in the month with dizziness that some have compared to vertigo. In his absence, the Ducks have struggled and fallen down the tough Western Conference standings.
After signing Ray Emery to a contract on Feb. 7, the Ducks swapped goalies with Tampa Bay. Anaheim sent McElhinney, who had lost four straight, to the Lightning in exchange for backup Dan Ellis, who is expected to start tonight. Of course, despite the goaltending issues, the Wild will have to watch out for Anaheim's killer first line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan.
Eric Nystrom has been a workhorse all season for the Wild but was offensively snakebitten for most of the year. The Hockey Gods must've finally decided to stop playing cruel jokes on Nystrom because he's suddenly on an offensive outburst. Nystrom scored the opening goal last night in L.A. by powering through multiple Kings and squeaking the puck through the legs of Bernier. After only tallying one empty-net goal in the first 57 games of the season, Nystrom now has two markers in four games.
The Wild will try to close out the short, two-game California road trip with a win to make it a .500 trip out west. Minnesota will have to deal with playing the second match of back-to-back games against Western Conference opponents in less than 24 hours.
The Wild will face the challenges of tonight's game with its backup goalie in net, which might be worrisome for other teams, but not for Minnesota this season. Jose Theodore is 6-3-0 with a 2.70 GAA, a .918 SV%, and one shutout in nine starts since Jan. 2. He has also posted victories in four of his six career starts in Anaheim.
Minnesota's special teams have played a major part in the team's success this season. The Wild penalty killers lead the NHL, killing off 88.9% of all penalties, since Dec. 31. Minnesota has killed off 16-of-17 opportunities in the past four games.
The Wild power play ranks 7th in the league (20.6%) and has tallied seven times in the past seven games. Minnesota is even better on the man advantage against Anaheim, going 8-for-25 (32.0%) against the Ducks since the beginning of the 2009-10 season (seven games). Minnesota is 22-11-1 this season when scoring a power-play goal.
Cody Almond is out of tonight's game with a lower-body injury. Recently-recalled Warren Peters will take his spot on the lineup:
Prosser was reassigned to Houston this morning because all six Wild blueliners are ready to go tonight:
After Backstrom got the start in L.A. last night, Theodore will man the Wild net in Anaheim.
Almond will be the lone player to watch the action from above.
Guillaume Latendresse (abdominal) and James Sheppard (knee) have both been cleared to practice and are with the team in California, but neither will play tonight. Koivu (hand), Brodziak (illness) and Barker (upper body) are out.
"I'm proud of the way guys battled. It wasn't an easy game and we just came up a little short.”
-- Todd Richards talking after last night's game in Los Angeles.
LW Jason Blake (Moorhead) and RW Dan Sexton (Apple Valley) are Minnesota natives…C Saku Koivu is the older brother of Mikko Koivu…D Andy Sutton skated in 88 games with the Wild (2000-02).
The team that scores the first goal has won each of the past 12 games in Anaheim between the Ducks and the Wild. The last team to come back from a 1-0 deficit was the Ducks on 1/23/04.