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Flyers vs. Wild preview: Wasn't Minnesota good? Oh, right, they're Minnesota...

No captain for the Wild tonight, either.
No captain for the Wild tonight, either.

7 p.m. tonight
Wells Fargo Center

TV: CSN Philly, FS North
TICKETS: Starting at $31

Yeah, I have a feeling that headline might make some Wild fans angry...

For much of the 2011-12 NHL season thus far, the Minnesota Wild have been that ignored team. Much like the Dallas Stars were a year ago as they climbed towards the top of the standings, the Wild have been disrespected and written off as a team that was surely going to come back to earth -- just like the Stars did a year ago, ultimately missing the playoffs.

The Wild were supposed to be different. A fresh new coach in Mike Yeo, a notable offseason with acquisitions in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, and a goalie tandem that played phenomenal hockey through the first 30 games of the season were to keep them afloat. After all, teams might be able to keep up a strong start through 10 or 15 games, but by the 30th game, we start to see the real character of a team. We had seen the real character of the Minnesota Wild.

Maybe we'd seen their character, but winning consistently takes more than character, you know?

Like clockwork, the Wild came back to reality. Those hot goalies who had combined for the unsustainably high save percentage early in the year? They've fallen back to their typical career numbers. The offense was never all that strong or deep to begin with. They've had injuries, sure, to Setoguchi and surprisingly super-valuable Guillaume Latendresse, and over the weekend they learned that they'd be without captain Mikko Koivu for at least a few weeks.

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Those injuries have only sped up the downward spiral. Since reeling off a seven-game win streak between November 28 and December 10, at the height of their ascent, the Wild have completely fallen apart. Two wins, nine regulation losses, four overtime or shootout losses. Koivu missed just four of those games, Latendresse 13 and Setoguchi 10, but the latter has since returned to the lineup. Injuries are certainly not fully to blame here, unless they're relying that much on Guillaume Laten-freakin-dresse.

They have taken their toll on the Wild, and they're not a team that's deep enough to handle them at all, unlike some other teams you may be familiar with. We don't yet have the full picture of the 2011-12 Minnesota Wild season, but in all likelihood, they're somewhere in the middle -- not as bad as they've been recently (obviously) but not nearly as good as they were early in the season, either.

Luckily for the Flyers, the Wild enter South Philadelphia playing some absolutely dreadful hockey, and considering the orange and black aren't putting in their best work of the year right now, that's a welcome sight.

According to the writers at the morning skate today, Ilya Bryzgalov will get the start for the Flyers against one of the worst scoring teams in the NHL. Zac Rinaldo got hit with a puck in practice over the weekend and will be out tonight, according to Paul Holmgren and the Flyers. That means Jody Shelley finds his way back into the lineup as James van Riemsdyk remains in street clothes with a concussion.

Full projected lineups:

Hartnell - Orange Jesus - Jags
Talbot - Danny Boy - Voracek
Read - Juicy - Wayne Train
Scrabble - Schenn - Shelley

Kimmo - Coburn
Carle - Bourdon
Gus - Mez

Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Whatever-Times-Tribune-Something reports that it'll be Josh Harding in nets for the Wild tonight. As mentioned above, he had a good start but has come back to earth along with the rest of his team. Two wins in 50 days will do that to you, I suppose. Lines are via Russo as well:

Heatley - Cullen - Johnson
Powe - Brodziak - Setoguchi
Clutterbuck - Peters - McIntyre
Staubitz - McMillan - Wellman

Zidlicky - Schultz
Falk - Spurgeon
Lundin - Stoner

Game thread will be up around 5 p.m. Tonight's one of those games where people laugh at you if you lose, so the Flyers should probably win. It's not gonna be pretty if Ilya Bryzgalov has a bad game, though...

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