Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Bear? Wolf? River? Trees? Sun?: Hockey Wilderness
The Wild come into this game with a feather in their cap that few others can make so far this season. They’ve taken two points from the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure, they had to do it via the skills competition but at this point, I would imagine most teams would consider that a pretty decent bragging point. We’ll have to get used to seeing these new North Stars since they’ll be division mates coming up next year. It could get interesting, seeing as how the two fan bases already have a healthy history of mutual dislike stemming back from before the North Stars became just the Stars. At least more of a rivalry than the Hawks have with the Avs anyway…
The Wild stumbled out of the gate a bit after making a big splash in the off-season but seem to have found their footing as of late as they’re now sitting just two points behind Northwest leading Vancouver and are 6-3-1 in their last 10. Of course, that’s one against the Oilers, two against the Flames and one against the Flames. I’m only impressed by the win against the Wings, seeing as how we’ve seen how much they can actually play when they feel like it.
The biggest turnaround for the Wild is likely the play of Niklas Backstrom. He was shaky to start the season but has regained form to go 6-1-1 in his last 8 and has played well enough to be named the NHL’s 3rd Star of the week for his play. Of course, playing goalie is probably a lot easier when the defense in front of you really steps it up too. The Wild have moved up to 7th in the league in shots against/game (just a tenth of a percentage point behind the Hawks). That combined with solid goaltending makes them one of the harder teams to score against in the league. In their last game against the Oilers, the Wild didn’t allow a single shot on goal for the entire second period and only 7 in the first. Creating opportunities will always be crucial against this team. With the creative talent the Hawks have, they easily fall into a trap of trying to be too cute or fancy with the puck. In a game like this, it’s going to be the ugly goals that determine who takes two points. If the third line can keep their amazing play up for this game, it could go a long way.
For the Hawks – the big news is the return of everyone’s favorite rat, Dave Bolland. He’s cleared to play after dealing with the dizzies for the past few games and will likely be slotted back in as the second line center. It’s hard to know how well he’ll do tonight but his play could be a nice boost for the team. The second line has picked its spots lately and perhaps the return of a familiar center (and I’ll just go ahead and skip the faceoff debate. You’re welcome).
A year ago, if I told you Frolik was unlikely for the game, how many would be genuinely upset? Anyone with their hand up can go ahead and stop lying. This year though, Fro has turned his game on as a more than serviceable 4th liner and a phenomenal penalty killer. He’s doubtful this game though with some sort of sickness. Minnesota has a pretty awful power play (23rd in the league) but Fro’s absence could be felt there. The big question though now is, which defenseman will Q fill into that 4th line to fill his spot if he misses the game?
There’s still no word on the return for Cal Clutterbuck after Taylor Hall went all Charles Bronson and took justice into his own hands in the form of a knee to the thigh. Word has been that Clutterbuck is close but hasn’t joined the team yet and remains uncertain for tonight’s game.
The big problem right now for the Hawks (and one they’ve likely faced for several weeks now) is that every team is going to do their best to get up and play their absolute best to try to end this streak. Every team is going to use a game against the Hawks as the measuring stick for how they play against the best. The Wild are coming off what may have been their most dominant victory of the year against the Oilers. There’s no time to rest for the Hawks. Taking a period off could mean the end of the streak. Although as we’ve seen against Columbus and Detroit – this team seems to just find ways to win out of thin air. That luck won’t last forever though. A team like Minnesota is one that is always going to work hard. The Hawks will just have to work that extra bit harder to keep the point streak alive.
Let’s Go Hawks