SATURDAY: Minnesota Wild at San Jose Sharks
The chase for the playoff positions available in the Western Conference seems to get tighter and tighter with each passing day. Every game is starting have more and more significance. So it’s hard to pick just one game to watch as things continue to be more contentious than an episode of Jersey Shore is.
Every Friday during the season, glowbass.com will do its best to preview a significantly important game scheduled for the weekend. The idea is to give fans a chance to dial into one additional game beyond their own team, and unlike the television networks, it won’t b e same five or six teams each week. We’ll give you a good cross-section of teams over the course of the season.
We also hope to incorporate help from my fellow Examiners, such we have done in this piece. We thank in advance the efforts of Minnesota Wild Examiner Charlie Beattie and San Jose Sharks Examiner Nikolas DeMordaunt, and ask you (once you’ve finished this piece) to click on the links to their pages to read more in-depth coverage about these teams.
Here’s a preview of Saturday night’s contest:
Road Team: Minnesota Wild (24–18–5), 53 points, 3rd place in Northwest Division, 9th place in Western Conference
Who’s hot: Veteran Andrew Brunette is starting to pick up the pace after some notable early season struggles. He has a four game point scoring streak, with three goals and two assists. He also registered career NHL goal #250 on Tuesday against Edmonton.
Who’s not: It’s been a season-long struggle for Eric Nystrom. He was signed to a 3-year contract worth $4.2 million this past summer, and the hope was he might be able to contribute some offensive punch from the third line this season. Instead, the son of former Islanders great Bob Nystrom has scored just one goal and only five assists for the Wild this season.
Which player deserves your attention: Cal Clutterbuck has had a career season so far in terms of scoring. He has 13 goals, tied for the club lead with defenseman Brent Burns, which is equal to his total for all last season. In addition to his career high total of goals, he continues to be dominant for what he is known for, leading the league with 217 hits.
What else should you be paying attention to: The Wild were able to receive great play in net the past few games from Anton Khudobin when both Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore became unavailable with minor injuries. Hudobin was 2-1 with a 1.59 GAA in four starts helping the Wild stay in their recent winning ways, and Backstrom returned to the lineup Thursday by pitching a shutout against Calgary.
Stat that jumps out at us: The Wild have always had to play well in tight games, primarily because they haven’t had the scoring touch of say the 84 Oilers. This season they continue to do well in tight contests. Minnesota has a 10-3-5 record in one-goal games, and a 6-3 record in games decided by two goals.
Key for the Wild to win the game: When you play the Sharks, you are always concerned with their power play, fourth best in the league. The Wild will need to not only be solid in PK chances, as they are sixth best in road PK efficiency and eighth best overall, but also when they themselves have the man advantage.
Andrew Brunette – Mikko Koivu – Antti Miettinen
Cal Clutterbuck – Kyle Brodziak – Martin Havlat
Eric Nystrom – Matt Cullen – Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Brad Staubitz – John Madden – Chuck Kobasew
Nick Schultz – Brent Burns
Clayton Stoner – Greg Zanon
Cam Barker – Jared Spurgeon
Niklas Backstrom (starter)
SCRATCHES: Cody Almond, Marco Scandella. Injury report: Theodore injured his hip in a game earlier this month against Nashville and has been listed by the Wild as day-to-day. There’s a chance he might even play as early as this game, but that won’t be known until after practice on Friday; it’s likely he’ll back-up Backstrom for now. Scandella suffered a concussion earlier this month but is expect to be available either next week or after the All-Star Game. Marek Zidlicky is expected to be back in 1-2 weeks recovering from a shoulder injury. Three players are out indefinitely: LW Guillaume Latendresse (groin), G Josh Harding (torn ACL/MCL), and C James Sheppard (broken kneecap).
Home team: San Jose Sharks (24-19-5), 53 points, 4th place in Pacific Division, 10th place in Western Conference
Who’s hot: Logan Couture continues to make a solid case for the Calder Trophy, handed out to the rookie of the year. He has 21 goals this season, tops on the Sharks and tied with Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan for ninth best in the league. 16 of his 21 tallies have come at the Shark Tank.
Who’s not: Dan Boyle was someone that a lot of people thought should have been a Norris Trophy finalist last season. In four of the last five seasons, he has scored double digit goals and tallied over 50 points. This season he has struggled a bit, with just five goals and 26 assists through 48 games. In his last ten contests, Boyle has no goals and just three helpers.
Which player deserves your attention: Ben Eager is certainly eager to prove that Atlanta overreacted to an unfortunate match penalty incident by trading him to the Sharks for a fifth round selection. Eager, who was a part of Chicago’s Stanley Cup winning team last season, made his debut on Thursday night in the Sharks shootout win against Vancouver by playing 13 shifts on the third line.
What else should you be paying attention to: So you’re Kyle Wellwood. You scored 14 goals for Vancouver last season, and entered unrestricted free agency in the summer. After there are no takers, you wind up Phoenix as a non-roster invitee, and then fail to make the club. So you sign in the KHL but only last half a season. Back in North America, you decide to sign with St. Louis, and agree to a one-year deal. Then during your first practice with you new club, you are pulled off the ice and informed that, due to a quirky technicality in NHL rules, you are claimed off waivers by the Sharks. It’s been a whirlwind for Wellwood this season. BTW, he played Thursday with his new team against his former team from last season and registered 11:18 of ice time on third line.
Stat that jumps out at us: From Thursday’s game, a microcosm of the Sharks’ struggles on offense this season: they recorded a franchise for shots on goal in the second period of a road game with 25. Couture’s goal was the only one that found its way past Roberto Luongo during that stanza.
Key for the Sharks to win the game: After sweeping all four contests with the Wild last season, the Sharks have dropped both contests against them so far this season. Both of those were in St. Paul. The Sharks have a 21-11-2-4 all-time record against the Wild. Strangely, no San Jose player has ever recorded a hat trick against Minnesota. Perhaps now would be a good time for a top player like Dany Heatley (nine career hat tricks) to get his first of this season.
Dany Heatley – Joe Thornton – Logan Couture
Patrick Marleau – Joe Pavelski – Devin Setoguchi
Ben Eager – Kyle Wellwood – Benn Ferriero
Jamie McGinn – John McCarthy – Jamal Mayers
Douglas Murray – Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Derek Joslin
Niclas Wallin – Jason Demers
Antti Niemi (starter)
To Be Determined
SCRATCHES: Scott Nichol, Ryan Clowe, Kent Huskins. Injury report: Goaltender Antero Niittymaki is on IR after being injured during Thursday’s morning skate in Vancouver. Jordan White went from sitting class on Thursday morning at the University of British Columbia to dressing in his first NHL game as the backup the same night. White was signed to a one-game, amateur tryout contract. No word on what the Sharks will do moving forward, as Niittymaki must sit out for at least one week. Clowe could return to the lineup in this game – he’s missed the last three with an ankle injury. Torrey Mitchell (groin injury) is on IR along with Niittymaki.
Jon Moncrief is beginning his first season as a national NHL columnist for Examiner. He has served as the Los Angeles Kings Examiner for three seasons and you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here. He also covers the Dodgers for Examiner. Additionally, Jon is a featured contributor for Bowl Gamer, and is the co-host of the weekly web-TV show INSIDE SPORTS.