Minnesota Wild (20-11-5) 45pts 4th in the Central
2.19 Goals For (29th)
2.19 Goals Against (5th)
20.9% Power Play (7th)
78.6% Penalty Kill (25th)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #11 Zach Parise ~ 15G 12A = 27pts
2. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 7G 20A = 27pts
3. #29 Jason Pominville ~ 15G 8A = 23pts
4. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 0G 19A = 19pts
5. #22 Nino Niederreiter ~ 6G 10A = 16pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #28 Zenon Konopka ~ 50 PIM's
2. #4 Clayton Stoner ~ 35 PIM's
3. #22 Nino Niederreiter ~ 22 PIM's
1. #37 Josh Harding (18-5-3) 1.51GAA .939%SP 3SO
2. #32 Niklas Backstrom (2-5-2) 2.93GAA .900%SP
Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-1) 51pts 1st in the Metropolitan
3.03 Goals For (6th)
2.17 Goals Against (4th)
26.9% Power Play (1st)
86.9% Penalty Kill (3rd)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #87 Sidney Crosby ~ 19G 30A = 49pts
2. #71 Evgeni Malkin ~ 9G 32A = 41pts
3. #14 Chris Kunitz ~ 18G 17A = 35pts
4. #36 Jussi Jokinen ~ 9G 13A = 22pts
5. #18 James Neal ~ 10G 10A = 20pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #15 Tanner Glass ~ 38 PIM's
2. #5 Deryk Engelland ~ 38 PIM's
3. #41 Robert Bortuzzo ~ 33 PIM's
1. #29 Marc-Andre Fleury (20-8-1) 2.00GAA .924%SP 3SO
2. #37 Jeff Zatkoff (5-2-0) 2.53GAA .911%SP 1SO
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Well my friends, one of my least favorite games of the entire season is upon us. And the fact that if comes so near the Christmas and New Year's holidays makes it even that much more annoying. The fact is, I hate the Pittsburgh Penguins. I hate everything about them, and no, this is not jealousy speaking. I have never liked them. Just because they have a bunch of stars on their team is absolutely no reason for me to fawn over them, like so many people seem to go out of their way to do.
First off, let's look at the respective 2013-14 records for the Wild and the Penguins. Minnesota is only six points behind Pittsburgh. That alone shows just how undominant the Pens are this season. Yet, all the national hockey media (on both sides of the border) will trip over themselves just to gush about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh and their fans should be counting their lucky stars that the rest of the Metropolitan Division has forgotten to show up this season. In the Atlantic, Central and Pacific Divisions, it will most likely be a fight to the bitter end for division titles and playoff positioning. Not so for the Metropolitan. The Penguins are simply going to win their division by default this season, not by any show of dominance.
One thing that has me extremely concerned about tonight is goaltending. It has been announced that starting goaltender (and league standout) Josh Harding will not be making this road trip. It was decided between Harding, his doctors and team officials, that he would stay home over this particular road trip to make some adjustments to his treatment for multiple schlerosis. I'll admit, with the exception of the upcoming Olympic Break, this is a good time to do so with the days off for the Christmas holiday. Plus, I have to appreciate the fact that everyone involved is being proactive in his treatment instead of reactive, meaning they're not scrambling to deal with an injury or a set-back in his treatment. However, when you have to go on a long-ish road trip, you still wish you had the guy in the net who has been outstanding, and won many games for the Wild that they had no business winning. So unfortunately, we will have Niklas Backstrom trying to keep the goals out of the net. Considering how poor his rebound control has been this season, it might be ugly. For the first part of this road trip, we will be seeing Jonas Gustafsson as backup. There is a possibility that he will go back to Des Moines at some point and Darcy Kuemper will be backup as well. Plus, there may be a bit of a silver lining. We just might get Harding back for the last game of the road trip in Winnipeg. Fingers crossed. But all is not lost either. Pittsburgh is a banged up team right now, especially on their blue line. Many of their defensemen would currently be in Wilkes-Barre if it weren't for the injuries. The injuries aren't to their big stars, but at least the playing field is evened out a bit.
The Penguins are banged up too. In fact, the hockey media has fallen over itself talking about Pittsburgh's resilience despite having the 2nd most man-games lost due to injury. Pittsburgh is without core players like Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and James Neal in addition to Beau Bennett, Jayson Megna, Tomas Vokoun, Andrew Ebbett. Evgeni Malkin missed last night's game against the Rangers and he might be out for tonight's game but it will be a game-time decision. Big bruising defenseman Deryk Engelland is serving game two of a 5-game suspension. So if there ever was a time to catch the Pittsburgh Penguins while they're down personnel-wise, its right now.
The part I'm most thankful about in regards to tonight's game is that it is not a nationally televised game. I don't know how I could handle listening to the folks on NHL Network or NBC Sports Channel blather on and on about Crosby and the Penguins. Don't get me wrong, I love when Mike 'Doc' Emrick calls the games, but there's a little too much Pittsburgh love when he's on the television. Trust me, we'll get enough of that ball polishing from Anthony LaPanta and Mike Greenlay.
Any guess on how many mentions we'll get tonight about how Crosby attended Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault? Imagine how many there would be if Pierre McGuire was between the benches? Oi Vey! Although it may make for a nice drinking game.
~ One shot for everytime Pierre mentions Shattuck-St. Mary's.
~ Two shots for everytime he mentiones the "Pittsburgh connection" between Mike Yeo, Chuck Fletcher or Ray Shero.
~ One shot and a beer chaser for everytime he mentions how Marc-Andre Fleury and Josh Harding should be strong candidates to be goaltenders on Team Canada for this year's Olympics
That alone should have most people on the floor by the middle of the 2nd period. But alas, Pierre isn't working this game. Hopefully the Wild play well enough I won't feel too compelled to drink my sorrows away.