Wild and the Washington Capitals tonight at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota, winners of eight straight on the road, is trying to get its game going at home, where it has lost three of five with only one regulation win in that stretch. The Wild has 20 road wins compared to 19 home.
The Wild’s the only good team in the NHL that has more road wins than home. The others are Columbus, Dallas and Arizona, who all stink at home. A number of teams coincidentally have the same amount of home-road wins.
“I don’t think we relax necessarily,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I do think we’re maybe a little more simplistic in our approach on the road. I think we shoot pucks a little bit more, we go to the net a little bit more. And a very strong focus on defending. So certainly we can take some of that and use it in our home game as well.”
The Caps are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t won in St. Paul. The Wild is 7-0 at home against Washington (Caps are 0-6-1).
The Wild is 8-1 in its past nine against the Eastern Conference, including five consecutive wins, and 21-5-2 in its past 28 and 19-4-1 since the All-Star break. The Capitals have won three of five since blowing a third-period lead in a 2-1 home loss to Minnesota on March 5. Superstar Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, missed that game. He’s playing tonight.
Ovechkin and C Nicklas Backstrom are tied for second in the NHL with 71 points each with Ovechkin leading with 45 goals, 21 power-play goals and 10 game-winners. He has four goals and seven points in seven games vs. Minnesota. Backstrom leads the NHL with 53 assists and Ovechkin and Backstrom are tied for second with 30 power-play points each.
Big news of the morning: Bubbly, big-shot former Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt, a native of St. Cloud, may play his first NHL game at Xcel Energy Center. He was supposed to be sent down if Brooks Orpik could play. Orpik looks like he’s playing, but Tim Gleason may be out now with an upper-body injury.
Schmidt was on a regular pair today with Mike Green and was forced into leading the late-skate team stretch in the middle. He took a lot of ribbing. Here's a feature I wrote on him last season.
Schmidt looked high as a kite this morning, but when is he not? “It’s my personality,” Schmidt said. If he plays, he’s looking to face former teammate Erik Haula again. Feeling’s mutual, Haula joked, after Haula took a shot from Schmidt last year that bruised his leg.
The Caps are staying in Minneapolis, so he played tour guide this morning and “showed everyone a specific campus and explained the beauty of it. It was hard to do it justice from the bus, and [former UMD Bulldog Matt Niskanen] wasn’t having any of it.”
Big Wild news of the day?
Uh, uh, uh, well, lots of Wild fans asked me on Twitter what Zach Parise chirped at Shea Weber after Matt Dumba’s OT winner Tuesday. Said Parise with a big laugh: “Nothing you want to write. We were just going after each other all game. You reach your boiling point. I think he reached his, too.”
Same Wild lineup tonight.
Marco Scandella is starting to rip the puck a little harder and is getting real close, he said. He will miss his ninth game tonight. He said in that Colorado game, the injury actually occurred the first shift when hit from behind by Gabriel Landeskog. He was hurting until finally he couldn’t play anymore.
When Scandella returns, Christian Folin would likely sit if Jonas Brodin goes back to right D with Ryan Suter. If Brodin stays at left D, Jordan Leopold would likely sit and Folin stays in.
Folin didn’t miss a beat the other night after being scratched four straight and Yeo says often it’s the second or third game back where one’s play tails off, so tonight’s a big test for Folin.
“Even though he’s a young player, he’s got a good idea of what he needs to do to be effective as a player,”
Folin Yeo said. “He just plays a solid game. I thought his skating was really good, I thought his gaps were tight and he was moving the puck well [against Nashville].”
When Ryan Carter returns, I’ve got to think Sean Bergenheim sits with Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak so valuable on the penalty kill. Honestly, how good was Haula, Brodziak and Brodin on that game-turning 3-on-5 the other night against the Preds?
I talked to both a lot today about defending 3-on-5’s and I’ll maybe toss that in tomorrow’s notebook. The Wild’s NHL-best penalty kill is 60 for 63 the past 24 games overall.
The Capitals rank first on the power play (25.7 percent), scoring on nine of 17 advantages the past eight games with the second unit outscoring the first unit, 5-4.
Chris Lee and Graham Skilliter the refs tonight. We’ll see if the Wild, uh, gets a power play.
The Wild hasn’t generating a single power play in two of the past 13 games and has drawn two or fewer power plays in 12 of the past 17 games. Since Jan. 15, the Wild is tied for 23rd in power plays drawn. For a team that is 21-5-2 since Jan. 15, there is little rhyme or reason for that.
“We’ve been playing some pretty good hockey and I always believe the more time you spend in the offensive zone, the more time you spend with the puck, generally you’re going to draw more penalties,” Yeo said. “It’s funny though because our puck possession stats, maybe not so much the last couple games, are very good. That’s when it’s frustrating is you feel you have the puck the majority of the time yet the other team seems to be going on the power play.
“I guess in some situations maybe we can move our feet a little better, in some situations we can maybe drive to the middle or try and take the puck to the net and if you got a bit of an advantage on a guy and force them to hook and hold you.”
The Wild’s power play is 3 for its past 35 in the past 16 games (8.6 percent).
WCHA Final Five is here this weekend and all the teams were at Xcel Energy Center this morning getting ready to practice.
I’ll be on the Bald Spot cam tonight on NHL Network at 5:40 p.m. CT. I’ll be on SiriusXM NHL tomorrow at 8:45 a.m. CT.