Dec 5, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
After last night’s disappointing shootout loss, to the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks head over to St. Paul, to take on the Minnesota Wild. In 3 previous matchups, this season, between the Central Division mates, the Wild have won 2 of the 3 games.
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Statistically, the Blackhawks have a huge advantage, in this one. The Wild are exceptional at keeping pucks out of their net, but the Hawks are beyond exceptional and putting pucks in opponents nets. Typically, good defensive teams, are good on the Penalty Kill, however the Wild Penalty Kill is down near the depths of the Hawks’ atrocious PK unit. If Minnesota is undisciplined and take several penalties, this game could get ugly, for them. While the Wild are excellent at winning faceoffs, they are in the bottom 3rd in Corsi For Percentage, so what this tells us is that Minnesota has a hard time turning initial puck possession into scoring chances. Faceoffs could be a big key tonight’s game.
The Wild are currently sitting in 4th place, in the Central Division, and in the thick of the Western Conference wildcard race. They boast a 27-20-5 record, good for 59 points, and have gone a very solid 7-3-0, in their last 10 games. The wildcard might be the Wild’s only hope for a playoff spot, since they are 12 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for 3rd place, in the Central. Crazier things have happened, though.
Minnesota is lead by Zach Parise, who has been injured, recently, but may return, for tonight’s game. The Wild are also dealing with injuries to Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon. The absence of Parise and Koivu likely explains the lack of scoring, which makes it remarkable that the Wild have won 7 of their last 10 games. Jason Pominville has been a wonderful addition to the Wild, since last season’s trade deadline, and it’s likely thanks to him and all-star defenseman Ryan Suter, that the Wild have remained afloat, this season.
The Wild have had excellent goaltending this season, however the crease has not been immune to injuries, this season, either. Original starter, Niklas Backstrom, has dealt with injuries, and poor play, all season. Josh Harding played fantastic, in the most heart warming and inspirational fashion imaginable, but sadly he is out, tonight, due to dealing with adjustments, in his medication for multiple sclerosis. It is expected that Minnesota will go with rookie Darcy Kuemper, in net. Kuemper has played well, in his limited time, with a .916 save percentage, in 8 games played.
The Blackhawks are looking to get back on track after a less than stellar performance, last night, in Detroit. Currently, the Blackhawks are in 1st place, in the Central Division, with a 32-8-12 record, good for 76 points, which is 5 points above the 2nd place St. Louis Blues, who have played in 3 fewer games, than the Hawks.
Patrick Kane had 2 assists, last night, in Detroit, and if he is officially out of his mini-funk, look out. Patrick Sharp scored a beautiful Power Play goal, last night, and is having the finest season, of his career. Marian Hossa is absolutely on fire. He has 8 points, in his last 6 games, which includes a bevy of clutch goals. Jonathan Toews continues to be at the center of the Hawks core, with his all-world play. Duncan Keith is still well on his way to his 2nd Norris trophy, of his career, barring any unseen setbacks.
It will be curious to see who Coach Quenneville goes with, in net, but one would figure it has to be Antti Raanta, since Corey Crawford played last night. Raanta has been solid, in his first season, in North America, with a .911 save percentage, in his 17 games played.
While the Blackhawks have an obvious advantage, in tonight’s game, it’s worth noting that the Wild have 2 out of 3, in the season series, thus far. Minnesota is looking to stay in the thick of the wildcard race, and perhaps eventually, miraculously climb into the race for the 3rd, in the Central, while the Blackhawks need to quickly put last night’s loss, to Detroit, in their rear view mirror, and a win tonight, would do just that. It should be a good game!