Two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions meet up tonight in Hockeytown, as the Minnesota Wild head back out on the road to take on the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wild are coming off an impressive win against a tough New York Rangers team - the kind of win that earn back the buy-in from fans and hopefully stem the tide of a 2-8 span that took Minnesota from potential cup contenders to potential trade deadline sellers. The Wings are coming off an embarrassing 9-2 loss to an Arizona Coyotes team that is amongst the worst in the NHL - a kind of loss that makes the fanbase question the direction of the team, and potentially be the nail in the coffin for a head coaches’ job.
Don’t believe me? Ask Winging it in Motown.
The only player who has been seemingly succeeding during the Red Wings’ current three-game losing streak is Robby Fabbri, who has a goal in each of the last three games. Dylan Larkin, who had an impressive 18 points through a 10-game points streak in February, has gone cold recently with only one assist in his last four games, and he and his top-line partner Lucas Raymond each went a dismal minus-5 in the Coyotes loss.
Tyler Bertuzzi missed yesterday’s practice with an illness, and if he can’t go, you’ve got to expect more rough sledding for the Red Wings. Also out for the Wings are Danny DeKeyser, who was placed on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury two days ago, and Carter Rowney, who was put on IR the day before.
In net, Thomas Greiss should get the cage after Alex Nedeljkovic was pulled late in the third period of the Arizona blowout.
For the Wild, their win against the Rangers showed what the team can achieve when completely healthy and firing. With the GREEF line reunited in Jordan Greenway’s return with a successful showing, Kirill Kaprizov still firing on all cylinders and Kevin Fiala working magic like this...
... you’ve got to think a top-to-bottom effort like that is the kind that can help get the Wild back on the elite, Stanley Cup-contending path they were on just after the Winter Classic and before the All-Star break.
Add to that the fact that Minnesota was perfect on both the power play (one attempt) and penalty kill (one attempt), and the fact they were able to respond after a potentially back breaking shorthanded goal by the Rangers, and there has to be some optimism in the locker room.
Yes, it’s one game. Yes, it was against the Rangers’ backup netminder. But this was more than a sloppy, just-barely-eked-out-a-win kinda game where the bounces just happened to go your way.
Now let’s see how they do against a Red Wings team that ranks near the bottom of the league in just about every team stat and, on paper, they should have no problems with.
Mike Russo reported that Freddy Gaudreau practiced after getting a bit banged up against the Rangers, so the Wild’s regular starting roster should be ready to go again.
Kaprizov - Hartman - Zuccarello
Fiala - Gaudreau - Boldy
Greenway - Eriksson Ek - Foligno
Duhaime - Sturm - Bjugstad
Merrill - Spurgeon
Brodin - Dumba
Goligosky - Kulikov
Cam Talbot should be back in net for the Wild, though that’s not yet confirmed.
An early start in the Eastern time zone for the Wild as they take on Detroit tonight, with puck drop coming at 6 p.m. Central.
Can the Wild keep their foot on the gas?
Before the win against the Rangers, the Wild had scored first in six of their prior 10 games, but won only one of those contests - the 7-3 drubbing of Edmonton. That was the only game where an early one-goal lead turned into a two-goal lead at any point in the game. Scoring first is usually key, but for this Wild team to be able to finally put their post All-Star Break struggles behind them, they’re going to have to find a way to tilt the ice in their direction and be aggressive instead of scoring early and desperately trying to hold on.
Case in point - after the Wild’s last two impressive wins (the 7-3 win over the Oilers, and the 7-4 win over the Red Wings they last time they played them), the Wild came out and laid an egg - dropping a 6-3 decision to the Winnipeg Jets and a woeful effort in a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa senators. The Wild can’t afford another sleepy game, especially against a struggling team like the Red Wings.
Will the new-look defensive pairings continue to thrive?
Dean Evason decided to change up the blue line pairings against the Rangers and the results paid off, especially in the top four. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba owned the possession with a 67.86 CF% and earned an impressive 74.73 xGF% while each earned an assist on the night. Jared Spurgeon and Jon Merrill also finished with a strong 74.73 xGF%, and Alex Goligoski led the team in blocked shots with 4.
Whether or not Bertuzzi goes for the Red Wings, keeping Detroit off the board will still be key in turning a single win into something the team can continue to build upon if they want to crawl their way back up the standings.