December 20 2010 07:52AM
The games in a NHL season can really run together at this time of the year for a mediocre team. Nothing seems fresh or worthwhile, and that's about how I feel going into tonight's visit by the Flames to the Twin Cities. That boredom is hard to overcome, but if nothing else this less than entertaining little skein of affairs between Minnesota and Calgary has opened a bit of a window on how both coaches see their teams.
From a Wild perspective, it's been interesting to watch Todd Richards manipulate his roster to get matchups against the weak 3rd pair and bottom six of Calgary's line up. As Kent pointed out in his review of the chances from Saturday, Richards tried to get Koivu out in spots where he could work on the Pardy/Babchuk pairing, managing that move with some success, at least on the scoreboard.
What's notable about that juggling on Richards' part is that he feels compelled to move Koivu away from the matchup Brent Sutter appears to want, based on the EV ice time numbers in the two Calgary home games the clubs have played. Sutter has used Olli Jokinen in some pretty heavy doses against the Wild's top man when he's had last change, and the results, at least in terms controlling offense from that line, are of some interest. Jokinen has played about 19 minutes of EV time against Koivu in the two home games and the combined chances were 4-3 for Jokinen's line, with none against just over 8 minutes Saturday night. Richards doesn't exactly hunt for Joker with his captain when the two clubs play in Minnesota, since the two Finns have played head to head for only 8 minutes combined at Xcel, so that will be a matter of interest to me this evening with Richards having last change.
With the two clubs playing back to back, there isn't much more to add on. Minnesota might kill the Flames off with a win this evening, so one might hope that with Saturday's sleeper fresh in the memory banks, the red team might find it useful to open strongly. It's not something we've seen much of this year, but if the Flames plan on making anything at all of this season, this is about as close as you can come to a must win in December.