No game in the National Hockey League should be taken lightly, even if that opponent is purposely trying to lose as many games as possible to increase their draft lottery odds and get the best prospect we have seen since Connor McDavid.
Wild vs. Leafs
When: 1:00 p.m. CT
Where: Xcel Energy Center
TV: BSN, BSWI, NHLN
Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM
Before the season, if you skimmed over the Minnesota Wild calendar of games and noticed this difficult stretch of hosting top-tier teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, you would think that this afternoon’s game against the Arizona Coyotes would be a brief reprieve of the onslaught before the team hosts McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers next week. Well, things aren’t turning out that way.
Despite shedding their roster of most talent, bringing on just anyone willing to play there, the Coyotes have still earned a not-bad record of 7-9-3 through 19 games this season. Their point percentage of .447 puts them directly below the Wild’s .500, something both fan bases were not expecting.
The Wild were supposed to be fine and even challenge the Colorado Avalanche for the Central Division title, but they have started out on a rocky footing — you are most likely aware of that, since you are reading a Wild blog. And meanwhile the Coyotes have just willed their way into several victories.
But maybe it was just a good-feeling start for Arizona, since its 4-0 win over the Hurricanes earlier this week is their only win in their last six games and now they head into St. Paul against a team that is slowly feeling themselves again after a rough stretch.
We will say that the Wild feel like they’re back after pushing up against the powerhouse Leafs and already clinching victories while looking like they’re repeating their franchise year that they had last season, but it’s all tentatively, once again. Since the Coyotes should not be taken so lightly that the home team slips and falls when they find out Nick Bjugstad can still score some goals, but it’s also not like any reigning champions are coming into their building.
A grey area that hopefully ends up with some serious two-way play and two points at the end.
Projected Wild lineup
Kirill Kaprizov — Sam Steel — Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway — Frederick Gaudreau — Matt Boldy
Nic Petan — Joel Eriksson-Ek — Marcus Foligno
Mason Shaw — Connor Dewar — Ryan Reaves
Jake Middleton — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill — Alex Goligoski
It was reported late Saturday afternoon that the Wild recalled goaltender Zane McIntyre on an emergency basis as a precaution, due to one of Minnesota’s regular netminders having a slight issue at practice earlier that day. It was then revealed that it was Filip Gustavsson who left practice early. So, we still don’t know who the tandem will be and even if McIntyre is truly needed.
The Wild have not skated yet today, so these lines are just rough estimations, but after looking not so great against Toronto, we imagine newcomer Ryan Reaves will be taking his talents to the fourth line and Nic Petan will get promoted in return. In addition to that move on the forward lines, with Jonas Brodin healthy, this might be the time that head coach Dean Evason decides to give Calen Addison a little rest. Just because the writing has been on the wall for so damn long.
We’ll update you when the actual lineup has been reported.
Projected Coyotes lineup
Clayton Keller — Travis Boyd — Nick Schmaltz
Lawson Crouse — Nick Bjugstad — Dylan Guenther
Liam O’Brien — Jack McBain — Christian Fischer
Nick Ritchie — Barrett Hayton — Zack Kassian
Jakob Chychrun — Shayne Gostisbehere
J.J. Moser — Dysin Mayo
Patrik Nemeth — Troy Stecher
Karel Vejmelka — the young netminder that has been pretty damn good for the Coyotes this season, earning a .916 save percentage and a 2.97 goals against average — is the projected starter for this afternoon’s matchup.
Well, we get to at least see some familiar faces. It is nice to know that a player that was regularly a healthy scratch last season in Bjugstad, is the Coyotes’ second-line center. And the player that Arizona traded a second-round pick for, because he didn’t want to sign in Minnesota, is below him in the depth chart. Other than that, it’s a lot of decently high draft picks that have found some small success.
On the blue line, Chychrun will probably do as much as humanly possible in this game, but only because he wants to show off for the scouts in attendance and get traded out of Arizona as soon as possible. There’s some good offense here, but in their own zone is where the Wild’s punishing forwards might be able to beat them down.
Puck drop is at 1:00 p.m.
Can the Wild score four or more goals?
We are more than due for a strong offensive showing from the Wild. In the month of November, the Wild have averaged just 2.45 goals scored per game, and that has come with hills and valleys. They score six against the Jets, but have also gone stretches scoring just one or zero goals against opponents that should allow more. We want to see a barnburner this afternoon.
Will the special teams streak continue?
The Wild have scored three goals on the powerplay in their last two games, and in their last three, have allowed zero goals shorthanded. The perfect balance that you want to be successful — so, can the Wild score a powerplay goal while also not allowing the Coyotes to score on theirs? It will be a tough task — and sounds more like a challenge in a video game than anything else — but will be a neat little fact for us to feel better about whatever the result ends up being.