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  • Minnesota Wild vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Game Preview, Start Time, TV Schedule


    Our brief break from hockey as passed, and now that we've had our turkey and watched that episode of Bob's Burgers, we're ready to get back to the rink.

    But before we do that, hope your Thanksgiving was happy and safe!

    But, anyway, back to the game at hand. Minnesota will be facing off against Pittsburgh today at 3:00 PM. Pittsburgh has had a couple of rough outings recently- one against Washington, the other the New York Rangers- but there's nothing to suggest they're not an elite team. They're second in the Metropolitan Division and most recently dealt their revenge to the Rangers, smoking them 6-1 on Wednesday.

    It's impossible to go more than 2 paragraphs talking about the Penguins without talking about Sidney Crosby, so let's get this out of the way. It's impossible to understate how great Crosby has been this season. Crosby leads the league with 14 goals, despite only playing in 14 of a possible 20 games. His 14 goals make up 23% of the Penguins' total goals this season, and his 19 points means he's factored in 40% of Pittsburgh's goals since his return from a concussion.

    But he's not the only show in Pittsburgh. Phil Kessel is shooting less than he ever has before, but with Crosby scoring goals, Kessel has taken over Crosby's usual playmaker role. Only Connor McDavid has more assists than Kessel's 15. Matt Cullen is still doing Matt Cullen things at age-40, scoring a half-point-per-game. And of course, you can't sleep on Evgeni Malkin, who is being overshadowed by Crosby despite being on a 30-goal, 70-point pace.

    On the blue line, one player that needs to step things up quite a bit is Olli Maatta. Through 20 games (with 18+ minutes a night), Maatta has just 1 lonely assist. Jonas Brodin looks at that and says, "Now that's what I call a defensive defenseman."

    It's weird, because usually when someone is in such a massive slump, the performance of their teammates is a driving factor. That's not the case. Maatta's on-ice shooting percentage (How well his teammates shoot when he's on the ice) is a solidly-above-average 8.6%. Baffling.

    But the cancer survivor has faced much tougher challenges than an extended slump, and he's shown some fine offensive ability in the past (29 points in his rookie year). Look for him to rebound.

    Speaking of rebounds, we don't yet know who will be in net for Pittsburgh. Minnesota had Marc-Andre Fleury face off against the Wild when they met earlier this month, and he played well but was ultimately out-dueled by Devan Dubnyk. Matt Murray's carried his brilliance from last year's playoffs into this season, and has a .945 save percentage in 7 games, which is a stark contrast to Fleury, who has been largely ordinary.

    Pittsburgh has a game tomorrow, but it'll be against the Taylor Hall-less New Jersey Devils. I expect to see Murray in net.

    As for Minnesota, they're still fighting that regression to the mean hard. They were flying extremely high in October, shooting an astonishing 13.7% as a team. In November? It's fallen all the way to 5.2%.

    Other than them continuing to not cash in on special teams, there's not really much explanation for this scoring drop. Minnesota has spent the majority of November getting the better of the play at 5-on-5. They've also had a significant uptick in generating shots and shot attempts.

    I mean, anecdotally, you can say the Wild aren't getting the scoring chances they once did, but they're doing as good (or better) in that regard than when they were lighting up the Jeff Zatkoffs of the world.

    Remember- this has happened to the Wild before. They'd go through stretches where they would play well, they'd control the play, and not be able to score. We saw this at the beginning of both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. They'd dominate shot attempts, scoring chances, and lose 3-2.

    The alarming thing is that when this collection of players did this under Mike Yeo, they'd respond by making adjustments that tanked the offensive side of their game. New head coach Bruce Boudreau has to be frustrated by watching his team shoot this poorly, but he has them playing much better than they did in October. Can he weather the storm and have the Wild build on what they're doing well now, or will he abandon the track his team is on? That'll determine Minnesota's success this year.

    One track that Boudreau thankfully abandoned: Putting Tyler Graovac on Mikko Koivu's line. Graovac is a perfectly fine player, but you could immediately see the difference on Koivu's line line once Boudreau inserted Jason Zucker into Graovac's place. Turns out, speed is important, and Zucker was able to set up Koivu on his first goal in 10 games. Zucker has bounced around since a hot start, and played very well with Koivu last season. Perhaps this will be Zucker's new home? He's certainly deserved a more prominent place in the lineup, being 5th among Wild forwards in points despite playing 12 minutes a game (9th most among Wild forwards).

    Marco Scandella returned, but he saw only limited time. It's unknown when he'll be brought up to his usual 18-21 minute workload, but the Wild could use him. When he's on his game, he does well in an under-appreciated role. Especially when he's paired with Jared Spurgeon, which is a possibility I will dream about until they are reunited once more.

    As for the goaltending tonight, Minnesota's situation in net is also up in the air. They play a back-to-back, and neither Pittsburgh or St. Louis represents a prime opportunity to sneak Darcy Kuemper into the crease. Granted, Kuemper's played well in his last two starts, but you're always going to be more comfortable with Dubnyk in net. Dubnyk stopped 39 of 41 Penguins shots earlier in November, but perhaps they'd rather save your best goalie for a divisional opponent.

    Ah, the joys of having an unreliable goaltender!

    But anyway, puck drop is at 3 PM Central. Join us for our game thread 15 minutes prior. Here's tonight's Tale of the Tape. Go Wild!

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