For the first time since November 11th, 2011, Minnesota Wild fans are going to have the pleasure of seeing Steven Stamkos at the Xcel Energy Center.
Stamkos scored the only goal for his team in a 3-1 loss to a Minnesota Wild team that was playing out of their minds, way beyond their talent level. Both teams would eventually miss the playoffs that year. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Wild played only in the Western Conference, presenting no opportunity for Wild fans to see Stamkos, and then last season, Stamkos was injured when the Lightning took a trip to the X. So, enjoy seeing a 60-goal scorer.
Good news for the Wild, bad news for the fans, the other two members of Tampa Bay's Big 3 won't be playing tonight. All-World Defenseman Victor Hedman has a broken hand, which may be good news for my keeper fantasy league, because I'm going to go and try to acquire him right now. Thanks to this game for reminding me. But Hedman was a guy who came into this year with a ton of Norris hype, and he was delivering with 3 goals and 7 points in 5 games. But, alas, it hasn't worked out.
Nor will Ben Bishop be in net, since Tampa Bay played last night. Bishop had a 3rd place Vezina finish last season, and has started strong for a follow-up campaign, stealing a victory in Winnipeg last night by stopping 40 of 42 shots. Evgeni Nabokov will be in net, which should be a nice break for the Wild.
Still, even short two stars, Tampa Bay is still a pretty fast, skilled team. Their offense still includes Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, the runners-up for last year's Calder Trophy, as well as
gritty veteran Ryan Callahan, (Nope, he's injured, actually) Calder-favorite Jonathan Drouin, and a glut of young forwards. On defense, Free-Agent Acquisition Anton Stralman leads the Hedman-less Lightning, who still have Power-Play specialist Jason Garrison, and puck-mover Matt Carle.
As for the Wild themselves, they've no major injuries, and will be icing the same lineup they had in Phoenix on Thursday. Darcy Kuemper will be starting in net, which they pretty much had to do, considering he's had 3 shutouts in the last 4 games. Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba will again play on the third-pairing, as (per Russo) Keith Ballard and Christian Folin are still recovering from a very weird strain of the flu. Kyle Brodziak still remains in the press box for Ryan Carter for... reasons?
Now that we've covered the lineup decisions, let's look at what to expect on the ice tonight. You may not be aware of this, but the Wild's Power Play has actually gone 5 games without a goal (in 19 opportunities), which might be bumming some of you out. Tampa Bay's Penalty Kill has had a strong start, but it's worth noting that they were in the bottom-10 last season. Maybe tonight is the night that this slump ends.
Speaking of slumps, the Wild have a few players that are struggling to get on the score sheet. Everyone knows that Thomas Vanek has yet to score a goal, and that Mikko Koivu is pointless so far on the season. But did you know that Erik Haula is also pointless on the season? Or that Hockey Wilderness favorite Nino Niederreiter hasn't registered a point since scoring a goal on Opening Night? I'm confident in all their abilities to produce offensively for the Wild, and attribute almost all of this to mere bad luck (They've a combined 1 goal on 49 shots, which is completely unsustainable), but tonight would be as good a night as any for them to start getting some points.
So, get ready, Wild fans. At 7:00 PM tonight, you're going to get to see arguably the best scorer in the game doing his thing against the Wild. Let's hope the Wild can manage to do their thing better.
Also, plug time, if you want to listen to some Wild talk before (or during- you can put your TV on mute!) tonight's game, here's the newest episode of the Hockey Wilderness Podcast- "#FreeExtensions". We cover the extensions of Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin, Nino Niederreiter's minutes, the power play, and Pearl Jam.