Fresh off his first NHL shutout, Anton Khudobin will make his third consecutive start and his first career road start tonight in Edmonton. No matter the outcome, it could be the last time we see Khudobin for awhile. Niklas Backstrom is expected to return to the crease tomorrow night against Calgary, and Jose Theodore made the trip and could return in the near future.
The Wild has 37 games left in the season, and I imagine all will be labeled “huge” from here on out. But tonight’s game feels even bigger than the last two against Colorado and Vancouver, who are actually in playoff contention.
The Oilers pose a dangerous threat despite being the only Western Conference team that is pretty much ruled out of playoff contention. Coming off a five-game roadie, the Oilers will certainly get a boost from the home crowd and they’ve got plenty of young players that are playing well. Highly-touted rookie Taylor Hall (14 goals, 27 points) is currently on a line with Dustin Penner (14 goals, 29 points) and Ales Hemsky (nine goals, 20 assists). That’s a dangerous line.
The Oilers won’t have another top rookie, Jordan Eberle, who is out with an ankle injury, as is top defenseman Ryan Whitney. Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton’s top scorer against Minnesota, is not yet ready to return from a knee injury.
Despite the injuries, the Wild will want to take these guys very seriously. The Oilers scare me. I still predict a Wild win, and I’ve been right on my predictions the last five out of eight times. Not too shabby.
Speaking of not too shabby, let me talk briefly about Wild goaltending prospect, Darcy Kuemper. This guy is enjoying an absolutely ridiculous season in the Western Hockey League, which is typically known for offense. Kuemper was named the League’s Player of the Week last week after going 3-0-0 with two shutouts and one total goal allowed on 86 shots. That’s a 0.32 goals against average and a .988 save percentage.
This wasn’t the case of Kuemper getting hot, either. He’s been sizzling all season long. He leads every single goaltending category in the WHL including wins (28), goals against average (1.80), save percentage (.933) and shutouts.
It’s pretty clear the future of Wild goaltending looks bright. Matt Hackett has looked like the real deal in his first professional season in Houston. The Wild expects big things from German keeper Dennis Endras, and of course there’s last year’s draft pick, Johan Gustafsson. But nobody has had the kind of year that Kuemper is having.