For the first time since November 1, the Minnesota Wild is sitting in a position in the standings that would keep them out of the NHL postseason if the playoffs started today. The key thing is the playoffs don’t start for another three months, and a win tonight over the Toronto Maple Leafs would put the Wild right back into the top eight. A victory would also do a lot to alleviate the frustration the team has felt since falling from the top spot in the NHL to ninth place in the Western Conference.
The frustration mostly stems from the team’s struggles on the road, and those continued on Tuesday in a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Darroll Powe scored the Wild’s only goal, while the Flyers converted on two power plays and also scored shorthanded. Josh Harding took the loss in a 28-save effort.
The Maple Leafs have experienced a similar roller coaster ride that the Wild have been through. Toronto was situated as high as second place in the Eastern Conference in late November, but they have slowly stumbled down the standings to the 9th spot after a 3-2 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. Joffrey Lupul and Matthew Lombardi scored the Leaf goals while James Reimer took the loss after stopping 18 of 21 shots.
Wild at Maple Leafs will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North with a start time at 6:00 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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Fans wearing the jersey of a Maple Leafs opponent run the risk of being embarrassed on the Air Canada Centre scoreboard. The last time the Wild played in Toronto, a group of fans wearing Wild jerseys were shown on screen, followed by a collective thought bubble that showed the picture of a moose.
There are few NHL general managers as high profile or outspoken as Leafs GM Brian Burke. Few take as many risks as he does, either. Burke has not been afraid to pull off some jaw-dropping trades in attempt to build a winner in Toronto, arguably the most pressure-filled city in the NHL.
Like most deals, some have worked and some haven’t. But two of Burke’s biggest deals appear to be paying dividends this season. Dion Phaneuf, who was acquired in a blockbuster deal, is headed to the All-Star Game this season. The same can be said for Phil Kessel, who was acquired for a first round pick that turned out to by Tyler Seguin. Kessel currently ranks third in the NHL with 24 goals, and sixth with 49 total points.
Few things have gone right for the Wild in recent weeks, as key players have gone down, and other players have been trying to do more in their absence. One player that hasn’t been a worry, however, is Jared Spurgeon.
The diminutive defenseman continues to play a steady game, with smart plays and few mistakes. The Wild has lost three straight games, but Spurgeon hasn’t posted a minus rating in any of them.
It’s tough to win many 1-0 games in the NHL, and the Wild hasn’t been able to score enough multiple goals on this 10-game road-losing skid. In eight of the 10 losses, the Wild has mustered one or fewer goals.
The team is looking for the right mixture in lines, so tonight’s lineup will see another change. Warren Peters will move up to the first line to center Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley. Peters plays a hard-nosed game, and the hope is that it opens up some scoring chances for the Wild’s top two scoring threats.
When the Wild was rolling through November and early December, it was the line of Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson setting the tone. Their relentless forechecking and physical play helped wear opposing defensemen down. That opened up scoring opportunities for others, and the hope is that trio being reunited can do more of that tonight.
The same forwards that played in Philly will be in tonight, but the lines will look drastically different:
"We’re trying new things. The status quo is not what we’re looking for right now.”
-- Mike Yeo on the changes made to the forward lines
D Jake Gardiner is a native of Deephaven and starred at Minnetonka in high school…Kessel spent one season playing collegiately at the University of Minnesota…LW Jay Rosehill played one season at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
With 49 points, Kessel ranks sixth in the League in scoring, and is the highest scoring American in the NHL. The next highest American on the list is Zach Parise, whose 39 points rank tied for 28th.