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  • The Wild and the Griffins meet again, this time in Grand Rapids


    Starting in Grand Rapids, Mich. tonight, the Iowa Wild will be travelling across the Midwest for the next week stopping in four different cities on the five game trip. With a win (or an overtime decision) tonight against the Griffins (Detroit Red Wings), the Wild will break the 30 pt threshold - six games ahead of the pace they set last season.

    Another fun fact for this season: Iowa hasn’t lost back-to-back regulation contests since opening weekend against the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators).

    On Sunday, the Wild broke a three game slide of overtime losses with a superb performance by Steve Michalek in a 40 save effort for a 2-1 win. Head Coach, Derek Lalonde, has talked about looking at the team’s progression in five game segments, and here’s how the Wild stack up through 25 games played:

    Oct 7th - 20th: 2-3-0 (4 pts)

    Oct 21st - Nov 2nd: 1-2-2 (4 pts)

    Nov 3rd - 15th: 4-1-0 (8 pts)

    Nov 17th - 28th: 3-2-0 (6 pts)

    Dec 1st - 10th: 2-0-3 (7 pts)

    This is a team that is trending in the right direction. The defense has been dominant, the offense is clicking, and the special teams has been showing up on both ends of the puck. Minnesota isn’t dealing with too many injuries, although the recent news about Devan Dubnyk will mean a change in net for Iowa.

    After playing their game on Sunday, not much has changed on the scoring front for either the Wild or Griffins.

    Top Performers

    Grand Rapids - Scoring

    In their meeting on Sunday, the Griffins were without the help of their leading scorer, Puempel, and Elson in the 2-1 loss. Elson, the winger/centerman from New Westminster, B.C. hasn’t played since Dec. 2nd, so there might be some questions surrounding his overall health.

    Of the names that found the score sheet in the last go around, only defenseman Filip Hronek would be one that would catch your eye. Zach Nastasiuk scored the Griffins’ lone goal, though it was in his first AHL minutes of the season; he was a second round pick for Detroit back in 2013. Undrafted free agent, Luke Esposito, earned the primary assist, though he’s split half of his season between the A and with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL.

    Turgeon, listed as a center on the league website, played on the left wing of Todd Nelson’s third line against Iowa on Sunday. Evgeny Svechnikov, the No. 19 overall pick in 2015, played well down low with a big body presence, but has just two assists in his last ten games.

    Iowa - Points

    Making his first appearance on the top five list is Sam Anas who has now tallied six points (3G/3A) in his last ten games for the Wild. I’ve talked a lot about how gifted he is with the puck on his stick, but in terms of his goals scored, he’s been most effective picking up the trash in front of the net. At 5’8”, 160, he plays very aggressively and is a tremendous puck battler.

    Kloos has really stepped his game up as of late and finds himself playing center once again, most recently between Gerald Mayhew and Sammy on the team’s third line. It isn’t the biggest group on the ice, just a combined 510 pounds of hockey player between the three of them, but they make it up in speed and handling ability.

    There is one guy that hasn’t made the list that has been really putting in the work. Christoph Bertschy is one of the hardest skating players on the team and does his damnedest every night to maintain possession in the OZ while also providing a formidable forechecking presence. Hopefully the alternate captain for the Wild can start being rewarded in points.

    Grand Rapids - Goalies

    Coreau got the start on Sunday, and given the trend of Todd Nelson splitting time amongst his netminders, the smart money says that McCollum will start tonight in Grand Rapids (though I’ve been very wrong on goaltender line-ups before).

    However, Coreau would be the better option for the defending Calder Cup Champs. Sunday night was definitely up in the air and was a true goaltender battle. He’s a lot better than the nearly .500 record suggests (at least with the eye test).

    Iowa - Goalies

    Devan Dubnyk might be out for an extended period of time, and it can be assumed that Minnesota will probably not be calling on Connor Beaupre again. This means that Iowa will be losing a goaltender, and by the time this runs, it’ll be either Michalek or Svedberg.

    If it’s a short term solution, I wouldn’t mind seeing Michalek sent up to get practice reps against NHLers. If it’s a long term problem, Svedberg is a veteran of 19 NHL games and over 280 games as a professional in the A, KHL, and (then) Swedish Elite League. He was also the emergency call-up for Minnesota earlier this year, though he just wore the ball cap on the bench.

    Best seat in the house, if you ask me.

    Game Plan

    Don’t rock the boat. You always want to see more offense, but Iowa played one of their most complete games of the season against Grand Rapids on Sunday. The Griffins have the size advantage, but the Wild are in tune with the growing NHL trend of speed and skill over brute force. Lalonde praised the Mayhew-Kloos-Anas line for their strength in holding on to the puck and making a difference with their speed on Sunday.

    On the defensive side, what looked like a lack of possession was more of a “by design” approach in the DZ. It was as though Iowa was unable to clear the puck in their own end, though there weren’t too many opportunities for Grand Rapids to get the puck on net even with the TOP clock ticking in their favor. Instead, Lalonde forced Grand Rapids to play the puck along the boards and make perimeter plays rather than allow them to use their size in the slot.

    It was very effective, though, obviously, it’s hard to generate your own opportunities when being dominated down low in your own zone. Iowa has a lot of players not afraid to battle in the dirty areas, and winning 50/50s was something they looked to be a bit off with in the last game.

    Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 EST from Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. If you’re a rare Wild fan living in Grand Rapids or on the road for business, the Griffins have some pretty sweet Wednesday night promotions.


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