Good afternoon from one of the neatest cities out there, Nashville, where it is downright freezing believe it or not.
Luckily, I've got a morning flight (via Memphis) en route for Arizona. I'll be able to warm up for a few days before Denver and Calgareeeeee.
Josh Harding will get the start tonight for the first of, my guess, two on the road trip. I'd assume Niklas Backstrom gets Phoenix, where his numbers are stellar, Colorado and Calgary. But obviously that's up in the air.
Coach Todd Richards plans to go with the same forwards tonight, meaning James Sheppard will be upstairs. The Wild will make a gametime decision as far as the defensemen, but Jaime Sifers may be getting back in for John Scott, who got lost on Anaheim's fourth goal last night.
Wild had a very optional skate this morning, but again, room was very loose.
-- The Wild has won four straight games for the first time since 10/11/08-10/18/09. Minnesota has not won five straight since it started the 2007-08 season with five straight regulation wins (10/4/07-10/14/07). The Wild is 5-0-1 in its last six games, its longest point streak since a seven-game streak to start last season, 10/11/08-10/27/08 (6-0-1).The Wild has earned at least one point in 12 of its last 15 games (9-3-3).
-- Kim Johnsson will play Game No. 700. Richards gushed over Johnsson this morning. From a former defenseman's perspective, Richards appreciates Johnsson's subtleties bigtime. And trust me, for all you Johnsson critics out there, if he's not on this team next season, you'll know it. I watched this team without Johnsson, and the Wild couldn't get out of its own zone.
--Minnesota has given up the game’s first goal in seven of its last eight contests but is 5-1-2 during that stretch. The Wild has trailed at some point in eight of its 12 wins and has three wins when trailing by two or more goals.
-- Nashville is 13-4-1 in its past 18, and has won nine of 12. The Preds have nine home wins, tied for fifth in the league. Nashville's given up four first-period goals in the past seven games and have scored 12 goals in the past 11 first periods. The Preds have been shorthanded the second-fewest times in the NHL (88, 3.14 a game). The Preds are 11-1-1 when scoring first. The Preds are 12-0 when they score a power-play goal.
-- Martin Erat has eight points in the last eight games. Jordin Tootoo has points in five of his last seven games. David Legwand has 10 points in his last 10 games. Jason Arnott has 10 points in his last nine games. The Preds are 10-0 this season when Joel Ward has a point. J.P. Dumont has 17 points in his last 17 games. Since the start of 06-07, Steve Sullivan has 17 points in 8 games vs. the Wild.
Richards was marvelous today on a ton of subjects that you'll be reading about over the next few days and into next week:
-- Very good on Mikko Koivu, and how the Wild's system really suits him. Remember, and Koivu's teammates were talking about this today, Koivu's allowed to cycle now, which is a huge strength. Under previous system, he usually had to be the third guy high.
-- He talked a lot about new guys Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Ebbett, and how they're acquisitions added urgency to the team for two reasons: 1) It tells players I better get my act together because they're bringing people in and I might be on my way out; 2) It offers hope to the players that the management wants to help. Remember, this is a huge philosophical change from previous management. In-season trades were a rarity under Doug Risebrough, and when I write about this, I'll throw in a few anecdotes of the past two trade deadlines to kind of illustrate what Richards is talking about.
-- Richards again talked about James Sheppard today and how he needs to "invest" in his career. He was real good on this subject. The Wild is taking Sunday off, so I plan on holding some of this stuff for an off-day notebook Sunday for Monday's paper.
OK, talk to you after tonight's game.