Minnesota returns to action after a week layoff for the NHL All-Star Weekend, tonight against the Nashville Predators, and it marks the start of the unofficial playoff push. The Wild’s All-Star, Mikko Koivu, wasn’t able to participate in the game due to an upper body injury, which will keep him out of the lineup again tonight, so rookie Nick Johnson represented the team in the skills competition. For the rest of the team, it was a much-needed break to try and get healthy for the season's remaining stretch run.
Some encouraging news from yesterday's Wild practice: Koivu skated beforehand and Guillaume Latendresse, who has missed 17 games with a concussion, was a full participant. This is great news as the Wild looks to close out January on a high note after a rocky start to the New Year. The Wild went 1-5-1 to start out 2012, but has won its last two games in a row.
Last Tuesday, the Wild overcame a one-goal deficit in a 3-2 victory in Colorado. Justin Falk scored his first career NHL goal, and Carson McMillan’s game winner was his first goal of the season. Dany Heatley scored his 15th goal of the season and Niklas Backstrom made 24 saves in the win.
In its last outing, Nashville skated to a 3-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. Craig Smith, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson scored for Nashville, while Pekka Rinne made 24 saves to earn his 28th win on the year.
Wild vs. Predators 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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Get to the game early and secure a green and white Minnesota Wild/AT&T knit-stocking hat. There are a limited number of hats to be given away, so the giveaway is a first-come, first-serve basis.
The last time these two teams met, the Preds were without All-Star defenseman Shea Webber. Nashville’s captain was a Norris Trophy finalist last season, and looks to be in the running again this year. Webber is second on the team in points (34) behind Martin Erat (35), and is tied with Erat in assist (24).
Webber wasn’t the only blueliner the Preds sent to the All-Star Game. Ryan Suter is tied for ninth in the league in defenseman scoring with 24 points.
One might think that the All-Star Break came at the wrong time for the Preds, who were the hottest team in the NHL going into the break. Nashville was 9-1-0 in its last 10 games heading into All-Star Weekend.
Since Koivu’s injury, Kyle Brodziak has had an expanded role and is responding. Brodziak comes into tonight’s game on a three-game point streak (one goal and three assist during that stretch). His numbers offensively have picked up, but the two-way center is still taking care of business in the defensive end. In his last three games, Brodziak has a plus-2 rating.
The Wild went into the All-Star Weekend with two much needed victories and hope its momentum can carry over the break. In its two wins, Minnesota played with the tenacity and consistency that had them atop of the NHL standings earlier this season. The team currently stands in 8th place in the Western Conference and Head Coach Mike Yeo will look for that same effort in the team's final push, and will have the luxury of home ice coming down the stretch run. Tonight, the Wild kicks off 19 of its final 33 games at Xcel Energy Center where Minnesota is 13-6-3 this season.
It’s like Chad Rau, Matt Kassian and Jared Ortmeyer never left. The trio was recalled from Houston and practiced with the team yesterday, after being reassigned the day after the Wild’s 3-2 win against the Avs. All three played in Minnesota’s last two wins, but were sent to Houston during the All-Star break to play in a pair of games for the Aeros over the weekend. All three will skate tonight.
It looks like the lineup will remain the same as before the All-Star Break:
Josh Harding will get the nod and has played well against Nashville this season. Starting both games against the Predators this season, Harding is 1-0-1 with a 1.45 goal against average and .940 save percentage.
No timetable on the return of Koivu (upper body) and Latendresse (concussion), but both skated at today's morning skate. Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) and Jarod Palmer (concussion) are out as well.
“We played two really good games before the break, and sometimes you wouldn’t mind seeing that momentum continue on. But, to have the rest that we got, not just physically, but mentally, will give us the ammunition to head down the stretch and really push forward.”
-- Mike Yeo on the All-Star Break
D Jack Hillen is a native of Minnetonka and won a 2002 state high school championship with the Academy of Holy Angels.
The Wild’s last two game-winning goal scorers were recalled from Houston in the previous week: Chad Rau (vs. Dallas, 1/21) and Carson McMillan (at Colorado, 1/24).