ST. PAUL, Minn. – Another day, another chilly reception awaits the Chicago Blackhawks – and we’re not just talking about the weather.
After a rough December the Minnesota Wild have started righting the ship, going 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. And as they sit in eighth place with 59 points, two behind the Vancouver Canucks entering tonight’s action, they’d love nothing more than to catch a (possibly) fatigued Blackhawks team on the second half of a back-to-back.
Antti Raanta will get the start for the Blackhawks.
So while you grab another blanket and curse every weather person who tells you about the brutal cold with a plastered smile on his/her face, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Wild-Blackhawks game.
1. Remember our No. 1 item from yesterday? It’s No. 1 again today. We forewarned of an injured Red Wings team coming out with much vigor and the Blackhawks possibly unable to match it. It happened. The Blackhawks face a similar situation tonight with a Wild team that’s also nursing some injuries. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Zach Parise will play for the Wild tonight, but goaltender Josh Harding, defenseman Jared Spurgeon and center Mikko Koivu will not. The Wild who are playing will be trying to prove something. The Blackhawks have a recent reminder that they should be ready for that.
2. Build off that penalty kill. We may have to start giving the Blackhawks’ much-maligned penalty kill a break (OK, we started to do that in Tuesday’s story): it was strong again on Wednesday night, nixing all four of the Red Wings’ power-play opportunities. The Wild doesn’t have the greatest power play (20th overall in the league), but the more confidence the Blackhawks get on the kill, the better.
3. Do something on the power play, too. The Blackhawks got a quick power-play goal on their first advantage on Wednesday (Patrick Sharp scored six seconds into it) but they came up empty otherwise. The Wild are 24th on the penalty kill this season and gave up two goals on seven (gasp) power-play opportunities to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. Get the Wild into the penalty box, and get going on the advantage.
4. Go with the short shifts. The Blackhawks are 9-0-3 in the second half of back-to-backs this season. Why? They get everyone involved, don’t get stuck out on the ice too long and just keep rolling. After an extended Wednesday night in Detroit, they’ll definitely need to do that to collect any points tonight.
5. Our pick to click this evening is Duncan Keith. The defenseman has been putting together a very nice season already, and he’s done all right against the Wild in his career, too (five goals, 11 assists in 32 games). Whether he adds more to that point total or just does it with defense, we see him having a good night.