Game #4: Minnesota Wild vs Edmonton Oilers, Thursday October 13, 2011 at 7:00pm (CDT), Xcel Energy Center [GAME PREVIEW]

Record Pts Div. Rank G/G GA/G PP% PK%
Minnesota Wild (1-1-1) 3 2nd NW 2.67 (14) 2.33 (14) 23.1% (8)

84.6% (16)

Edmonton Oilers
(1-0-0) 2 4th NW 1.00 (28) 1.00 (1) 0.0% (27) 87.5% (12)

 

Minnesota Wild
Top 5 Scorers: G A Pts
1. #15 Dany Heatley 0 3 3
2. #7 Matt Cullen 2 0 2
3. #10 Devin Setoguchi 2 0 2
4. #9 Mikko Koivu 0 2 2
5. #96 Pierre-Marc Bouchard 0 2 2
Top 3 Penalty Minutes: PIM
1. #28 Matt Kassian 5
2. #22 Cal Clutterbuck 4
3. #96 Pierre-Marc Bouchard 4
Goaltenders: GAA SV%
1. #32 Niklas Backstrom (1-1-1) 2.30 .921
2. #37 Josh Harding (0-0-0) 0.00 .000
Edmonton Oilers
Top 5 Scorers: G A Pts
1. #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1 1 2
2. #83 Ales Hemsky 0 1 1
3. #4 Taylor Hall 0 1 1
4. #13 Cam Barker 0 0 0
5. #5 Ladislav Smid 0 0 0
Top 3 Penalty Minutes: PIM
1. #94 Ryan Smyth 15
2. #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 2
3. #13 Cam Barker 2
 
Goaltenders: GAA SV%
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (1-0-0) .92 .971
2. #35 Nikolai Khabibulin (0-0-0) 0.00 .000
.

 In Minnesota’s last two games, the Wild played Eastern Conference teams that are expected to finish at or near the bottom of the league’s standings.  The result of that was a loss and a shootout loss.  It probably comes as no surprise that many of the league’s experts have picked Minnesota to finish at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.  However, at this point the Wild are in 5th place, yet losing to two clubs that many feel are destined for the league’s basement cannot be seen as a positive sign.  Tonight the Wild return home to the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center with a near perfect situation in hand.  How so, you ask? 

Look around at the other sports teams in the State of Hockey with the exception of the World Champion Minnesota Lynx.  Its just been a long tale of failure.  The Vikings disappoint, the Twins imploded, the Gopher football program is completely pathetic and the Timberwolves have been lost in the desert for a very long time.  If the Wild were to make their splash in the Minnesota sports scene, now would be the best time because the state’s sports fans are desperate for anything positive to root for.  The Wild could fill that void this winter.  The $64 question is, will they? 

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Wild vs. Oilers

A suspension to Brad Staubitz caused the team to drop Eric Nystrom down to the minors so they could have Matt Kassian stay with the big club to play the role of enforcer.  It was meant to be a temporary situation and as soon as Staubitz’ suspension ended Nystrom would be recalled, but as a veteran he had to pass through waivers twice.  He had no takers on the way down to a brief stint with the Houston Aeros, but as Minnesota recalled him the Dallas Stars saw a solution to their salary floor problem, so they made a deal to snag Nystrom for future considerations.  A great deal for the Stars who now are above the salary floor, but Minnesota now finds itself without the services of a versatile forward who can play either on the wing or center.  Luckily for Minnesota, Staubitz and Top 6 forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard return to the lineup, no path through waivers required.  In the case of Bouchard, he seems to play his best games against the Oilers so the timing couldn’t be more fortunate. 

The Oilers won their first game in dramatic fashion as a late-game tally by rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who was drafted 1st Overall this summer at the ‘X’) allowed Edmonton to earn a shootout victory over the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins.  No one would say the Oilers are lighting the lamp with great proficiency, but they have lots of young talent that all can skate and possess great creativity with the puck.  Minnesota’s defense may be tested in a way it hasn’t been thus far; not as much in the physical sense but in terms of their skating and experience will be pushed by players who are given plenty of freedom.  The Oilers still have some weapons in their arsenal including veterans Ryan Smyth (who has been a Wild killer for a long time), the always shifty Ales Hemsky, speedster Taylor Hall, and clutch sniper Jordan Eberle make Edmonton a dangerous opponent if you don’t bring your best effort. 

Minnesota will must get their forecheck established so Niklas Backstrom or Josh Harding does not feel they are going to be asked to stop 30+ shots on goal.  The forecheck was a big part of Head Coach Mike Yeo‘s plan of attack when he was the bench boss of the Aeros.  It not only created a decided advantage in terms of shots on goal but it also helped defensively by keeping shots against down.  It hasn’t worked out as well this season thus far, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t.  Losing on the road is one thing, but losing at home could bring a little heat from the fans and the media.  While I certainly believe most Wild fans have liked what Yeo has had to say so far; you could’ve said the same things about Todd Richards two years ago and we all know how that turned out.  

The Wild need to prove they can finish opponents off when they acquire a lead.  The Wild must also prove they can give a 60-minute effort.  The Wild must demonstrate they can score more reliably 5-on-5.  Some of the top line talent needs to be a bit more selfish and take their chances to shoot the puck.  A cynic might chime in, “welcome to last year,” which really would not be far off the mark.  Its time for Minnesota to move on and take that next step forward.  One can only hope right?   
    
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About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

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