As Minnesotans prepare for temperatures to plummet and the coldest Christmas in 20 years, the Minnesota Wild are in sunny Florida ready to take on the Panthers.
The Wild (18-13-3) bounced back after a pair of losses and have won five of their last seven games. Their current four-game road trip is half-over, and will lead into a break for the holiday. The team also has a bunch of fans with them, for the annual father/mentor-son trip.
Historically, the Wild do well against this Eastern Conference rival from the land of the sun.
They’re 15-3-3 all-time and 7-3-1 in Florida. The Wild won both meetings against the Panthers (13-16-5) last season. Eric Staal led the way with three goals and four points, and Jonas Brodin tallied four assists.
Staal has 50 points (20-30—50) in his career against the Panthers. He’ll skate in his 69th career game against them. He’s built up a nice point lead this season with 31 (14-17—31). He’s coming off a three-point effort against the Senators and has eight points in the past six games.
In addition to the offensive outburst from the Wild a few nights ago in their 6-4 victory over Ottawa, Mikko Koivu broke his goal-less drought with a deflection. The pressure will still be on to see if he can build off that goal, or continue to struggle putting the puck in the net. Koivu still has just five goals and 11 assists this season.
Coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t planning to make any changes to the lineup from the winning one that was on the ice in Ottawa. In the category of slow starts, which come up more often than not, the Panthers are the ones that just returned home after a five-game trip where they hopped time zones and won just twice.
It’s an opportunity for the Wild to capitalize on a potentially sluggish Panthers squad. After all, they’re coming off a very solid offensive performance in which they scored six goals and put a season-high 40 shots on net.
The Wild surrendered a goal on the penalty kill last game, but their kill still ranks fourth in the league, giving up just 22 goals on 133 chances. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a 20th-ranked power play and 19th-ranked penalty kill.
The veteran Matt Cullen will play in his 1,400th career game in the NHL, assuming he’s not a late scratch for some reason. Cullen has 696 career points in the NHL (250 goals) and has two goals and five assists this season.
For other Minnesota connections, there’s the Blaine boy and University of Minnesota Gophers product, Nick Bjugstad and his 17 points in 34 games (9-8—17).
This game is the first night of the fifth back-to-back set for the Wild this season. They’re 2-2-0 this season in game ones. Expect to see Alex Stalock in goal once again for the Wild. He made 28 saves in the last game and a season-high 42 saves against Chicago last Sunday.
Devan Dubnyk (lower body), 4 games
Zach Parise (microdiscectomy surgery), 34 games
82 total man games lost