Thanks to the Kris Letang suspension and probable Brent Johnson start, the Penguins will be without $31.65 million worth of players in the lineup tonight. A significant number considering that Pittsburgh’s total salary is $64.3 million.
Luckily for Pittsburgh, the Minnesota Wild are only 2-1-2 on the season. Those two wins came against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers—the 13th and 15th place teams in the Western Conference last season.
There are some new faces up front for the Wild. Former NHL superstar Danny Heatley headlines a group that also features Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu. Heatley, who has not averaged more than one point-per-game since leaving Ottawa in 2007, only has one goal in five games this season. Despite his slumping totals over the past few years, Heatley is one of the most talented players in the NHL and can still bury it with the best of them.
Setoguchi and Koivu skate beside Heatley and will look to ratchet up the intensity tonight against one of the league’s premier teams:
“More production from its top line would surely benefit Minnesota. Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi have totaled three goals with four assists this season and gone without a point the last two contests.”
Behind the stars is a supporting cast of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, and Guillaume Latendresse. Latendresse leads the Wild in points with four while Cullen heads the squad with three goals—all even strength.
The trio has become Minnesota’s scoring line this season, combining for more points than the Wild’s top unit:
“When Guillaume Latendresse was put on a line with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, it was thought that it would be Cullen and Bouchard making the passes. Latendresse was just supposed to get close to the net and pump in some shots at close range. Instead, it’s been Cullen lighting the lamp, and Latendresse becoming the playmaker. He set up Zanon’s goal on Saturday for his second consecutive game with a helper, and now leads the team in scoring with four assists.”
Do not expect much pressure from the bottom six offensemen. After the first two lines, Minnesota is compiled of scrappers and grinders.
Not much to report on the defensive end of the puck. As Harrison Mooney of Puck Daddy puts it:
“Marek Zidlicky is your breakout and powerplay specialist, and Nick Schultz is your top shutdown guy. In short, there are no starring roles on defense.”
Zidlicky is a fluid skater who can lead the rush up ice. His shot is strong and he is threat to score if given space. Outside of the Czech D-man though, there is not a lot to be scared of.
“Jared Spurgeon [and] Clayton Stoner have some NHL experience now, but they’ll need to prove they can cut it. Things could go well here, but there’s going to be mistakes made. Limiting them is what they hope the trap can help out with.”
Without doubt Niklas Backstrom is the strength of Minnesota. He is as positionally sound as goaltenders come and he has the athleticism to back him up when he is out of position. If he played for a stronger defensive team than the Wild, there is no doubt that Backstrom would be in the Vezina race routinely.
MOST SKILLED WILD PLAYER: Danny Heatley
Heatley has scored 40 or more goals five times in his NHL career. That is no fluke.
WILD PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO HAVE SUCCESS AGAINST THE PENS: Danny Heatley
With 20 goals in 27 career games against the flightless birds, Heatley is a Penguin killer.
WILD PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO BE VICTIMIZED BY THE PENS: None
The Penguins have only scored five goals in their last four games against the Wild. Backstrom is 3-0 against Pittsburgh and the Wild is one of only two teams that Dan Bylsma is yet to beat. Simply put: Minnesota owns the Penguins.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE SERIES:
Pittsburgh hasn’t lost three straight regular season games in regulation since a skid that started on December 30, 2009.