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  • Minnesota Wild @ Calgary Flames: Game Preview, How to Watch, Start Time


    After dropping their last two games (including an embarrassing loss in Vancouver), the Minnesota Wild will look to avoid dropping below .500 when they take the ice against the Calgary Flames tonight.

    The Flames aren’t doing so hot themselves. They’re just one point out of a playoff spot, but they should be in panic mode right now if they want to keep their postseason dreams alive.

    Though there’s not much separation in the standings, many teams Calgary’s jockeying for position with- the Stars, the Wild, the Predators- were all playoff teams last season. Ones expected to return to the postseason.

    Another big problem is games in hand. Or rather, the lack of games in hand for the Flames. They’ve played a league-high 26 games this season. Meanwhile, Dallas is one point ahead of them with a game in hand. The Wild and Perds are one point ahead of them with a whopping four games in hand, each.

    But Calgary wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. They made the playoffs two years ago before goaltending injuries and meltdowns derailed last season for them. In response, they went out and made a big splash, trading for long-time St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott.

    Problem: Elliott has went into the tank since arriving in Calgary. And it’s not even a case of him getting hung out to dry. The Flames have been a Top-10 shot suppression team, even on their 30th-ranked penalty kill. It’s Elliott who has been the fail point, sporting only an .885 save percentage.

    To make matters worse, their offense has sputtered, too. Sean Monahan has been one of the league’s very best young goal scorers. He has just 6 goals through 26 games. They need more from him. Same with Sam Bennett, the #4 overall pick in 2014. Coming off a strong rookie season (36 points in 77 games), Bennett’s point production has stagnated thus far. He’s on pace for a grand total of... 38 points.

    In fact, this lack of offensive punch makes trade rumors swirling around Dougie Hamilton more baffling than ever. Hamilton is second on the team in points with 12 while leading the Flames with 68 shots on goal- 10 more than second place. He might be reserved, but I can’t imagine that he’s the problem there.

    Of course, the offense isn’t helped by the absence of Johnny Gaudreau. “Johnny Hockey”, of course, one of the most electrifying scorers in the game, averaging 27 goals and 44 assists since entering the league. He hadn’t been quite himself before getting injured, but was starting to heat up before he got sidelined with a finger injury.

    Who gave him that injury? Eric Staal in Calgary’s last game against the Wild. It’s even kicked off a subplot that doesn’t even need to happen! Calgary’s downplaying the tough talk when talking about the possibility for revenge against Staal and the Wild. Physical force Troy Brouwer responded to a reporter’s question about the matter with “What are we supposed to do, run around slashing everyone?”

    But Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher is still spooked by vows for revenge like “We’re going to finish our checks.” and “Our focus is on winning the game.” After these obvious calls for bloodshed, Fletcher called up Kurtis Gabriel, his go-to face puncher. Gabriel has torched the AHL to the tune of 4 points and 35 penalty minutes in 20 games, earning him the call-up.

    Minnesota is appearing to roll with the same lines they’ve been using for the last few games, hoping to get the Staal line rolling, and Zach Parise in particular. Since returning from a foot injury, Parise hasn’t been himself, scoring just 2 goals (with 1 assist, 20 shots) in 7 games. But he’s been gaining steam, getting 4 or more shots in 3 of his last 4 games. If he keeps at it, he’ll get back on the board soon, and with regularity.

    The only line that really showed up in Vancouver was the newly-reformed partnership of Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Pominville. The trio averaged just over 13 minutes that night, but collected a whopping 3 goals and 12 shots. Their chemistry last season was undeniable, and it carried over into the new year. Hopefully, their ice time will reflect that.

    On defense, the only question is whether Nate Prosser or Gustav Olofsson enters the lineup tonight. Olofsson made his season debut on Tuesday, and performed pretty solidly. He only managed a shot on goal, but got the better of the play in his limited ice time. Olofsson won’t be a star, but quietly positive play on the third pair has been something the Wild have been looking for for years. If he can play at that level, he’ll be a fixture in the lineup.

    And though Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t put the brunt of the blame for Tuesday’s loss on Darcy Kuemper, Devan Dubnyk has a) Been the team’s- and maybe the league’s- MVP this season and b) has 4 days of rest. He’s gonna start tonight.

    That’s it for the game preview. Stop by at 7:45 for our Game Thread. Puck drop is at 8.

    Enjoy tonight’s Tale of the Tape:

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