October 19 2010 12:12PM
Vancouver travels to Minny to take on an old enemy, although the fires of rivalry have died down recently. Particularly with the Wild struggling to compete while the Canucks challenge for the division crown. That said, even with the old trap-master Jacques Lemaire sipping martinis in retirement, the Wild are almost never an easy win at home.
TV: SNET Van; RADIO: TEAM 1040
As has been true almost since the day they (re) entered the league, the Wild are an odd mix of mediocre players with the occassional elite talent thrown in just to confuse things. The biggest gun in town currently is Mikko Koivu, a center who can do everything from kill penalties to launch bombs on the PP. A Selke candidate earlier in his career, Koivu was moved into a more "scoring friendly" role by new coach Todd Richards last year, which resulted in some career best number across the board.
Martin Havlat was supposed to add some support to Koivu on the top line, but the former Blackhawk has mostly been a flop in Wild colors thus far. A tough minutes option for the Hawks when they took a big step forward, Havlat battled inconsistency and bad bounces at the onset of his Minnesota tenure. He hasn't fully recovered yet, although when you glance at Guillaume Latendresse's explosion once he landed in Minny last year, look no further than a dash of high shooting percentage and a huge dose of playing with Havlat at ES to explain things. As of right now, Havlat and Koivu are still separated at ES, but I imagine Richards will inevitably combine them on one line and start sending them out in power versus power match-ups.
On the back-end, Brent Burns has been mostly healthy and effective to start the year (although word is he recently fractured his foot). A big guy with Norris trophy talent, the team would benefit hugely if he can stay in the line-up. Cam Barker and Marek Zidlicky fill the "PP guys who are suspect in their own end" roles while Greg Zanon and Nick Shultz have the thankless tasks of blocking shots and killing penalties.
In net, Nicklas Backstrom will try to reclaim the form that saw him become the clubs first undisputed #1 goalie in a long while. If he falters, newly signed Jose Theodore will get the call.
The Wild are currently last in the NW division with one win and three points in four games played. Unless something changes drastically, they are a good bet to continue to be mediocre as the season progresses.
The 3 Keys
1.) Stay out of the Box. The one area in which Minny hasn't struggled is the man advantage. They recently torched the Oilers for 4 PPG's in one game and currently own the best PP success rate in the league (38.1%)
2.) Score some goals at ES. The Canucks have had some problems converting at 5-on-5 in the early going, particularly with Ryan Kesler being snakebit. The Wild are even worse at converting at ES than the Canucks, so if Vancouver can start burying their chances they may bale to pull away.
3.) Take advantage of Depth. The Canucks probably boast the superior forward line-up. If they can play Koivu's line to at least a draw, the rest of the roster should be able to outplay their Minny counterparts.
Some intems of interest heading into tonight's contest
1. Flu sweeps through Minny locker room (The Province)
2. View from the other side (Hockey Wilderness)
3. NHL Preview - Canucks @ Minnesota (NHL.com)
4. Keith Ballard out with a concussion (The Provice)
5. Canucks @ Wild gameday preview (Nucks Misconduct)