It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.... This two-game road trip could certainly be a tale of two cities. Where Dallas had a lot of things going their way, including momentum, the Minnesota Wild are just as dangerous for the exact opposite reason. They've been on a bad run lately, and they are desperate to break out of it. No matter how innocent an animal looks, if you back it into a corner, they'll strike out. The Wild could be reaching that point themselves.
The Wild have a season record of 20-16-5 ... not great, but above .500 and well within reach of a wild card playoff spot. At home, they're even better, a record of 14-4-2, a night-and-day difference from their abysmal road record. And just lately, the refuge of playing at the Xcel Energy Center has been disturbed by what happened in their last game. The Wild were up 3-0 at one point in their 12/29 matchup against the New York Islanders, but gave up 4 unanswered goals and eventually lost 5-4 in regulation. That's a home-game collapse that has everyone concerned.
In the last ten games, the Wild are 3-7-0, and they've lost 5 consecutive games in regulation. The losses have been coming like a runaway train. This franchise has never lost 6 in a row, and they'll surely throw everything at the Blues to prevent that from happening tonight.
The Blues have won the last 6 meetings between these two teams, and the last two were by shutout. Going into tonight, the Blues have a running shutout streak of 153:01. The Wild will surely want to end that streak as well.
In that same time, the Blues have killed off 11 straight Wild power plays. There's another one that the Wild would like to end. (above two notes via Star Tribune preview HERE)
These are all things that are weighing on the minds of the team tonight. I'm sure the coaches have made these same points to the players. I don't think it's exaggerating things to say that this is a must-win for the Wild, if only to prove something to themselves and to the Minnesota fans. They are looking for some sort of relief from the misery of losing.
To make things tougher, arguably the best player on the team, Zach Parise, is on IR with a broken foot. Clayton Stoner is also out with a Lower Body Injury. All of this has lead to head coach Mike Yeo possibly fighting for his job. Everyone is looking for someone to shove out the door and to blame for this mess.
Twin Cities.com (Pioneer Press): Mike Yeo needs to turn team around ... or else
NBC Pro Hockey Talk: Coach Yeo can't explain Wild's stunning collapse
Hockey Wilderness: Do the Minnesota Wild Need to Fire Mike Yeo?
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Wild has no explanation for crumbling on home ice to Islanders
From that last article:
The Wild’s a team in crisis right now and the frightening thing is nobody, from the players to the head coach, seems to know how to get out of this.
There is zero doubt Craig Leipold is beside himself over this collapse. The question is how and when he reacts.
Now, I have little sympathy for Craig Leipold, considering this is the bed that he's made for himself, and also for his role in the last lockout. But, this puts tonight's game in vivid context, especially from the opponent's perspective. This is what they are dealing with right now. I can't even tell you what the fans must be thinking.
The usual suspects are the team offensive leaders. In overall points, it is Mikko Koivu, with 30 (8G, 22A). Next is the goals-leader Jason Pominville with 28 (17G, 11A) and the injured Zach Parise (15G, 12A). Nobody has cracked double-digits in goals after that, and the next highest points total is Ryan Suter (1G, 22A). If the Minnesota Wild are going to bounce back tonight, it'll likely be these guys leading the way.
In net, the Wild are led by Josh Harding (confirmed to be playing tonight), who has posted a 18-6-3 record and a 1.64 GAA and .934 save percentage. That last game against the Islanders was his first back after missing 10 days while dealing with his MS. The backup on the Wild bench is Niklas Backstrom, who has a 2-9-2 record and a 3.32 GAA / .893 save percentage.
Star Tribune's Wild Blog Russo's Rants
Final Verse: The game has an early start today - 5 PM St Louis time. The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120. The GDT should drop just before the puck does. Until then, this is your pregame warmup. Gather here, plan your NYE drinking and debauchery, share favorite shot/drink recipies (ever try a Canadian Car Bomb?), and see that it's not all gloom and doom in Wild land: