Before the Olympic break, Coach Ken Hitchcock set a goal for the team to lead the Central before skipping town for Sochi. The Blues achieved that, just barely, by winning the very last game before the break. The next goal he set for the team, once the NHL resumed action, is the President's Trophy. While it pales to the Stanley Cup, it is still a worthwhile goal in its own right. There's no time to celebrate the win over the Avs. You sleep, then the morning comes and there's another game to play. A win tonight, and the Blues will leapfrog over Anaheim and lead the entire damn league. There's a lot of hockey left to be played, for sure, but the realization of that goal can begin tonight.
This is one of the scenarios that has not worked out very well for the Blues; back-to-back games with travel in-between. Thankfully, this is better than previous examples - this time, the early game is the first one, allowing more time between games. Also, both teams have to travel to Minneapolis. The Wild were in Dallas last night, where they got to see Mike Modano's jersey raised to the rafters before losing to the Stars 4-3. Last night was also the debut of 2 of the 3 acquisitions that the Wild made at the trade deadline. Matt Moulson had an assist and 5 SOG in 17:09 on ice, and Cody McCormick didn't do much with the 8:37 he was given. The third pick-up was Ilya Bryzgalov from the Emonton Oilers. While it's not certain, Wild head coach Mike Yeo said that Bryz would "probably" get the start against the Blues.
The Wild have been, for quite some time, solidly in the 4th place spot in the Central Division. Their record of 34-22-7 has kept them in the top wild-card slot, and as long as they hold off Dallas (last night's loss was HUGE), they can finish there. So, with the playoffs a likely event in their future, they became buyers at the deadline and brought in Moulson and Bryzgalov. Moulson, playing now on this third team this year, comes in with 17 goals and 21 assists in 55 games on the year. He's a great complementary player, and can really add some spark and secondary scoring to a team. Bryzgalov, well, he's a pretty well-known commodity as well. Playing in Emonton this year, he posted a 5-8-5 record and a stat line of .908 Sv% and 3.01 GAA. He was brought in to spell the rookie Darcy Kuemper, who was thrust into the starter's role when the tandem of Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom both went down. Kuemper has done well for himself in this situation. In 19 games played, including 16 starts in a row through last night, the kid has gone 11-4-2 and put up numbers of 2.29 GAA and .922 Sv%.
The Minnesota Wild have, historically, not been a very offensively-minded team. Their current lineup has more firepower than years before, though. The goals and overall points leader is Jason Pominville with 42 points on 22 goals and 20 assists. Next is captain Zach Parise, with 39 points (21g, 18a) and Matt Moulson with 39 points also (17, 22a). Mikko Koivu has 8 goals and 28 assists for 36 points, and is especially dangerous in the faceoff circle. Lastly, the top 5 is rounded out with defenseman Ryan Suter with 34 points (6g, 28a). Also, keep your eye on Mikael Granlund, who was one of the best skaters in the Olympic tournament. Overall, they have a solid lineup, and the scoring is spread around quite a few players. Even All Star Dany Heatley has 25 points, and contributes occasionally.
In keeping with yesterday's preview, the #FancyStats information is fairly similar. Whether you look at the entire season cumulatively or on a rolling-10 game window, the Wild are consistently sub-50% in possession. Looking at 5-on-5 play, when the score is close, their Fenwick shows:
(via Extra Skater)
The Blues just need to play their game, and continue to hold the puck the majority of the time. If they do, I'm a believer that the goals (and therefore the wins) will come. While I can't get enough of you, baby, Miller will probably sit in favor of Elliott tonight. Which is fine. Elliott needs to get his games in, too.
Russo's Rants (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Extra Skater Minnesota Wild page
Final Verse: We're back to an evening schedule, thankfully. Opening faceoff is 7:00 St Louis Time. The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call is on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT should drop shortly before the puck does. Until then, this is your pregame warmup. Gather here, bitch about Daylight Savings, reset your clocks, and remember who we're all here to really see: