The Minnesota Wild has made more calls down to the farm system than any team in the National Hockey League, but today’s call up of LW Matt Kassian feels a bit different. The team recalled Kassian from Houston this morning while reassigning RW Jon DiSavlatore to the Aeros. You’d have to assume Kassian isn’t coming to Minnesota to produce offense tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. He’s coming to protect the Wild’s skill players who have seen one too many endboards up close and have been left injured. With opponents, including Edmonton’s Lennart Petrell delivering vicious hits from behind and going unpunished by the League, Kassian now gives those agitators something else to think about. And he doesn’t wear a suit and sit at a desk at the League office.
Last night, the Wild snapped a stretch of four games without a point with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. Down a goal late, Dany Heatley scored on a wraparound with 3:59 remaining. Josh Harding stopped 24 of 25 shots and gave up just one goal in the shootout, but that was enough to send the Predators to victory.
The Oilers have dropped five of their last six, with their only victory in that stretch coming against the Wild on December 22. On Monday, the Oil fell to the Vancouver Canucks, 5-3. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Smyth notched power play goals and Corey Potter added another, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the streaking Canucks. Nikolai Khabibulin took the loss in a 21-save effort.
Wild vs. Oilers will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North with a start time at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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The next player card giveaway is tonight, with Dany Heatley being the featured star. Don’t forget, these cards do more than just look good in little plastic cases. If you collect all of the cards, you have the chance to win a SONY prize package.
We’ve seen a lot of these Oilers. We’ve watched them five times in the regular season, two times in the preseason and 68 times since the Wild came into existence. Tonight will mark the last time these two teams will square off as Northwest Division rivals.
The Oilers were actually the last Western Conference team that the Wild ever defeated, not beating them until the fall of 2002. But since then, the series has belonged to Minnesota. The Wild is 37-22-9 all-time against the Oilers, which is the most wins against any opponent.
The Wild might be getting out of the Oilers division at the right time. With young studs like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, the Oil could be a force in the League for years to come.
The majority of Heatley’s 11 goals have come in big moments, and last night’s tally was no exception. It was the result of furious pressure by the Wild on that play, and for most of the night. The team’s co-leader in goals has posted four points (2-2=4) over his last three games.
There might be some who are sad to see this Division rivalry come to an end. One would be Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has torched Edmonton throughout his career. In 42 matchups, Bouchard has racked up 10 goals and 30 assists, which his highest scoring total against any team. If Bouchard can get one more goal against his favorite target, Khabibulin, he’ll move into fourth place on the Wild’s all-time goal scoring list with 97, one more than Brian Rolston.
Kassian might not be skating around looking for a fight tonight, but he will be skating around. If there is any sense of Oiler players getting chippy with the guys in red during this final matchup of the season, Kassian and Brad Staubitz will surely be around to defend their mates.
The Wild did not hold a morning skate today, which means most lineup decisions won’t be known until tonight. DiSalvatore’s departure leaves an open wing spot on the second line. That could mean Jarod Palmer gets back into the lineup:
The defensive pairings will also be a gametime decision tonight, but the six that played last night looked very good against Nashville:
Niklas Backstrom had the night off, but he’s expected to get the start against the Oilers. In his career, Backstrom is 15-0-0 with a 1.19 goals against average against the Oilers at Xcel Energy Center.
One forward and one defenseman will have to come out of the lineup tonight.
"That’s the shootout for you. You play a great game and you leave here with an empty feeling. But the reality is if we focus on the game and what we did out there, if we play like that, we’re going to be in good shape.”
- Mike Yeo on his team’s performance despite not getting both points out of Nashville last night
D Tom Gilbert is a Bloomington native and starred at Jefferson High School…LW Ryan Jones was drafted by the Wild in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft…C Eric Belanger, D Andy Sutton and injured D Cam Barker are all former Wild players.
The Wild has won four shootouts this year and lost four. Three of the shootout victories have come against the Oilers.