There's a very interesting parallel to draw between this year's Anaheim Ducks and last year's Minnesota Wild: both started white-hot.
The Minnesota Wild began the 2011-12 season in spectacular fashion, losing just four times in the month of November. At one point they had the best record in the NHL and were picked by many to be an early surprise Cup contender.
The Anaheim Ducks just finished one of their best months in franchise history, losing only twice in February. While they never actually led the NHL, thanks to Chicago, the Ducks have been this year's Western Conference surprise.
However, Minnesota signed superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts, and many expected the Wild to be able to find that form that made them so fearsome in the early going last year.
Well let's just say the only thing that's wild about this team so far has been its name... and its payroll.
Saying Minnesota has sputtered out of the gate in this shortened-sprint of a season is putting it lightly. The Wild are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and sit 8th in the conference on 22 points.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Mike Yeo's squad is that all the money they threw at big free agents hasn't really paid off yet. Despite making a whopping $12 million each this year, Zach Parise has a total of only 13 points and is a -2. On top of that, his 13 points is tied for the team lead with Mikko Koivu. The entire squad only has three players with more than 10 points (Suter being the third).
To put that into perspective, the Ducks have six players with at least 10 points, and four more with 9.
As you can imagine, low point totals for the players mean a pretty anemic offense, and Minnesota's is no exception, sitting 29th in the NHL at a paltry 2.06 goals per game. Nashville, who sits in 30th, is at 2.05. Yet with the offensive talents of Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, and Dany Heatley, there are a lot of questions as to why this Minnesota team just can't seem to score.
The cards are stacking up poorly for the Wild as well. They'll be on the tail-end of back-to-backs having played in Phoenix last night. Goaltender Nicklas Backstrom will probably be playing in both games on the back-to-back as regular backup Josh Harding is on injured reserve. Darcy Kuemper, a 22-year-old Saskatoon native, is currently serving as backup.
Nonetheless, this isn't a game Anaheim can overlook. Minnesota is underperforming but it's the teams who aren't meeting their expectations that can surprise you the most. The Ducks learned this lesson the hard way on Monday vs. Los Angeles. Their offense is packed with both young and veteran talent, and sits as a ticking time bomb that could explode should the Ducks defense fall asleep momentarily.
However in my eyes there's no reason why the Ducks shouldn't come out of this with both points.
In their previous meeting this season, the Ducks dominated the game, walking out of Honda Center with a 3-1 win. Tonight will be their second meeting of this season, with the third and final one coming in 11 days' time in Minnesota.
Fearless prediction: Ted Nugent makes clear his immense disappointment that the Minnesota Wild is not in fact a tract of land in which he can bow-hunt a moose.