As the Minnesota Wild are putting together their New Year’s resolutions, this one might be pretty high on the list — beat the Winnipeg Jets.
Sitting with an 0-2 record and outscored 11-2 in those two games combined, the Wild will hope to get 2020 off to a strong start by flipping the script against their north-of-the-border rivals (and, possibly, future Winter Classic foes) in a matinee game at Xcel on Saturday. The last time these two teams met was a 6-0 blowout at the hands of the visiting Jets, with Winnipeg led by a pair of goals by Patrick Laine and two points by Blake Wheeler, making him the franchise’s all-time leading scorer over former Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk.
Winnipeg has been on a rough stretch since the last time they faced the Wild in mid-December — losers of four of five and watching Dallas pass them for the third spot in the central. The Jets have also allowed four or more goals in their last five, including their last game, a 6-3 loss against the Maple Leafs. Thursday’s game with Toronto saw the Jets crawl back from an 2-0 deficit only to see the Leafs score twice in :35 seconds to put the game back out of reach. Their starting goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, was chased during the second intermission after giving up five goals on 17 shots. Winnipeg will be looking to turn the tide against the Wild as they start a four-game road trip.
The Wild, for as strong as they have been at home, have dropped their last two and have won only one of their last four at Xcel Energy Center, having been outscored 13-4 in those home games. Head coach Bruce Boudreau called his team’s effort “maddening” and Zach Parise called the game “disheartening” following Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss against the Maple Leafs.
At Friday’s practice, Boudreau shook up the lines to spark an offensive corps that is missing its second-highest point scorer in Jason Zucker, who is still a minimum of two weeks away from returning.
For now, this means a temporary farewell to The GEEK Squad.
But as bad as the last two games have looked, there is some good news. First, the Wild are still a very good team at home. Prior to the losses against the Islanders and Maple Leafs, Minnesota was 10-2-3 for the season at the X, scoring over 3.5 goals a game. Second, outside of Jason Zucker, the Wild are healthy with Devan Dubnyk, Mikko Koivu and the rest of the regular cast of characters in the lineup. And lastly, after a span of games in which they went 2-for-29 (7%) on the power play, the Wild have improved to 28% with the man advantage in their past three games. And if Minnesota is able to continue that trend against the owners of the league’s-worst penalty kill, it should go a long way towards being able to stop their current slide.
Can the Wild take advantage of a Winnipeg swoon? Or will the Wild’s home woes continue? Puck drops at 1 p.m. CT at Xcel.
1. Can whoever’s in net step up?
Dubnyk has started the last two losses, but Stalock’s last venture between the pipes was a 6-0 shelling against these same Jets, so it’s a toss-up as to who Boudreau will use in the rematch. And granted, the Wild’s defense hasn’t done any favors for Dubnyk, especially against the Maple Leafs. But the Wild’s current ability to win games 6-5, 8-5 and 6-4 isn’t likely sustainable. At some point, to crawl back into a playoff spot, they’ll have to show they can win 1-0 or 2-1 games. The Wild are due for a solid effort from the starting goalie. Will they get one against the Jets?
2. Can a “Last Man In” candidate keep his scoring streak alive?
Ryan Suter is hoping to join Wild All-Star Eric Staal via the “Last Man In” vote for the NHL All-Star game. Adding to his current three-game points streak wouldn’t hurt in that regard. Suter has been red-hot lately with 10 points in his last 10 games (3 goals, 7 assists). Will he keep the streak alive with a strong performance against the Jets?
3. Does Dumba finally find the net?
Matt Dumba’s goalless streak has reached 23 games, and it shows, gauging by the sawdust in his gloves from gripping his stick so hard.
Wait, sticks aren’t wood anymore. Composite filings? Anyway, you get the picture.
Bottom line, NHL coaches will tell you that one goal can sometimes cause a landslide for a player on a cold streak, and a blast on the power play could be just what the doctor ordered. As mentioned before, the Jets are the worst in the NHL at killing penalties, having allowed 11 PPG on their last 22 kills. In fact, the only game where they didn’t allow a power play goal — you guessed it, December 21st against the Wild.
The Wild are due. Dumba’s due. A prediction — the stars align, and Dumba gets his fourth goal of the season.