Wild and Calgary Flames tonight. It’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Xcel Energy Center, and the Wild returns to St. Paul for the first time since Oct. 29 and opens a three-game homestand and a stretch of seven games in 12 days.
The Wild is 11-3-1 in its past 15 against the Flames and had an eight-game point streak until Niklas Backstrom beat the Wild in last season’s finale. The Wild is 16-7-5 in its past 28 against Calgary at home.
The Flames have gotten off to a surprisingly poor start. They’re the only team with 10 regulation losses.
The Wild has given up a league-low 28 goals, nine in the past eight games; the Flames have allowed a league-high 3.63 goals per game (30 more goals allowed than the Wild). The Wild is tied for fifth in the NHL with a +13 goal differential; the Flames are a league-worst minus-20. The Flames have scored 2.38 goals per game (24th in the NHL).
Devan Dubnyk vs., it looks like, Chad Johnson tonight, which is a bit of a surprise because former Blues goalie Brian Elliott is 8-2 against the Wild with a 2.18 goals-against average.
Chad Johnson is 0-1-0 with a 5.09 goals-against average and .833 save percentage in one career start vs. the Wild (12/9/14, 5-4 Wild win over the Islanders).
Dubnyk has allowed eight goals in his past seven games, stopping 219 of 227 shots in that span for a .965 save percentage, 1.15 goals-against average and three shutouts.
Only news of the day: Eric Staal will have the A stripped from his chest!
Zach Parise is indeed returning tonight against the Flames. The Wild went 3-3 without him in the lineup.
He’ll play the third line tonight with Erik Haula and Jason Pominville, although he’s expected to play on the top power-play unit with Staal, who has points in eight of his past nine games, and Charlie Coyle.
Jason Zucker will move up to the Mikael Granlund-Mikko Koivu line and the fourth line will be Zack Mitchell-Tyler Graovac-Chris Stewart.
That means Joel Eriksson Ek will be scratched for the second game in a row. As I wrote today, GM Chuck Fletcher told me by phone yesterday that if this pattern continues of scratches, fourth-line minutes and no special teams time, Fletcher believes Eriksson Ek would be better off returning to play for his pro team in Sweden rather than play full-time in Iowa.
For that story, click this link, but Fletcher said he’ll meet with coach Bruce Boudreau and Eriksson Ek on Wednesday, so perhaps a decision could even be made Wednesday.
“I think this experience has really helped him,” Fletcher said, sounding like the decision is already made. “The thing we have to be careful of is when do we need to make sure he’s in a stable environment where he can play consistently big minutes? That’s what we’re weighing because we also want to make sure we protect our hockey club in the short-term [with injuries]. Those are the things we’re balancing. Things tend to change every day, but at some point, we’ll do what’s right for him in the long-term.”
Plain and simple: It’s a no brainer that a 19-year-old can’t be playing this little. So the question: Why Sweden vs. Iowa? Fletcher explains his rationale in the article.
What Boudreau has to be comfortable with is if the Wild gets into injuries, is he cool with the recalls continuing to be guys like Mitchell, Jordan Schroeder, Teemu Pulkkinen and Christoph Bertschy until somebody like Alex Tuch is NHL-ready? Eriksson Ek being returned to Sweden is a permanent move, even though technically the Wild would be allowed to recall him at any time.
“I’m comfortable with the guys that we’ve seen in the last five games,” Boudreau said. “They’ve come up and done a real good job, and sometimes on the road in trying roles against good teams.
Eriksson Ek just hasn’t been near the same player the past five games as he was the first four. The league gets better after the first couple weeks and he suddenly doesn’t look nearly as ready
As for Parise, he said, “I’m excited. It’s never fun when you have to watch and come to the games and not play and you’re not in that gameday routine that you’re so accustomed to being in, so I’m looking forward to playing and just getting back into the swing of things with the guys and being a part of the group again.”
That’s it for me. I’ll be on Calgary TV during the second intermission tonight.
Please join us at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis on Wednesday at 4 p.m. for the Russo-Souhan Show.