The Minnesota Wild returns to action tonight, looking to improve in the middle frame of a short 3 game home stand. They will look to build on their slight edge over the ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes as they host an Edmonton Oilers squad that has continually had difficulties living up to their talent level for several years.
Edmonton arrives in frigid St. Paul as the owners of the second lowest point total in the National Hockey League with 35 and has been especially futile in their own zone, outpacing the rest of the field by giving up 174 goals this season. In an attempt to reclaim the back half of what is already a lost season, the Oilers made several transactions in a matter of hours. The first move was to acquire goaltender Ben Scrivens, who played well in a mixture of backup and starting roles with the Los Angeles Kings. Soon after his acquisition, they parted ways with goaltender Devan Dubnyk, a move that should have already been made this past summer.
The formula for success this evening is for the Wild to get physical and knock around the young and likely deflated Oilers tonight from the drop of the puck. If they are able to pressure the opposition immediately and pot a few goals early against Scrivens, the visitors will be in for a long night on the road.
Another key to tonight’s contest is the ability to play a sound defensive game and move the puck quickly past the Oilers speedy forwards such as Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While the Oilers are the cellar dwellers of the Western Conference, this is not a team that the Wild want to get into a north and south game with. While it may not be exciting and it goes against the philosophy that the Wild are trying to employ this season, the best plan of attack is to get pucks deep and pressure the puck in an attempt to cause mistakes. If the Wild are able to set a physical tone in the offensive zone, dictate the pace of play, and allow Darcy Kuemper to remain in the rhythm he has already established in his past 2 games, fans can expect a victory tonight.
In other news, two of the Wild’s most important players are nearing returns to the ice in the coming week. Zach Parise skated with the team for the first time on Wednesday since missing 11 games. His presence in the locker room with a young team and obvious scoring prowess will be welcomed with open arms. No definitive return date has been set, but it is a good sign that he is nearing a full recovery. Goaltender Josh Harding, the NHL’s leader in goals-against average and runner-up in save percentage, is on his way back from complications with his MS. The Wild has received above-average play between the pipes in his absence from both Backstrom and Kuemper, but there is no secret that Harding should be the backstop the rest of the season as long he remains healthy.