The Minnesota Wild are headed out west to the Honda Center to take on the Anaheim Ducks tonight, hoping to extend their winning streak to six games and fight for the second position in the Central Division. Though the Wild are buzzing and the Ducks are sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Division, the Wild should still expect a hard-fought game. The last time these two teams went to battle (Dec. 3), the Wild eked out a win in a 5-4 game that went into overtime.
The last month has seen the Wild play their best hockey this season, continuing to climb the standings and getting ever closer to securing their spot in the postseason. However, the Ducks have been on the opposite end of the spectrum, struggling to scrape together wins. The Ducks managed to string together wins against the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers before Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, where it never really seemed that they were in the game, eventually falling 4-1 to their California rival.
Wild’s Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Markus Foligno
Ryan Hartman – Frederick Gaudreau – Matt Boldy
Mason Shaw – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reaves
Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merill – Calen Addison
Filip Gustavsson – Marc-Andre Fleury
Related: 5 Wild Prospects to Watch at the 2023 World Juniors
Duck’s Projected Lineup
Adam Henrique – Trevor Zegras – Troy Terry
Jakob Silfverberg – Ryan Strome – Frank Vatrano
Max Comtois – Mason McTavish – Brett Leason
Jayson Megna – Sam Carrick – Justin Kirkland
Dmitry Kulikov – Cam Fowler
John Klingberg – Simon Benoit
Kevin Shattenkirk – Nathan Beaulieu
Lukas Dostol – John Gibson
3 Keys to the Game
Offense From Middle-Six
Though the Wild have had success by leaning on the point production of Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov, this strategy is likely not a sustainable one. The middle-six forwards need to find a way to meaningfully contribute on the offensive side of things.
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The GREEF line has seen Eriksson Ek put up 10 goals and 15 assists for a total of 25 points this season, which is good enough for third on the team, but his linemates have really struggled to match his pace. Foligno and Greenway, together, have only put up 13 total points this season.
With the return of Hartman, the Wild’s third line has received a boost. Matt Boldy has 22 points in 31 games, and Gaudreau has 13 points in that same amount of time. If Hartman can stay out of the penalty box, this third line could be a big difference-maker moving forward.
Offensive Zone Time
Head coach Dean Evason mentioned during the Wild’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday (Dec. 16) that the club needed to stop playing cute hockey and begin to play with some grit. They came out on top in that game, winning 4-1. The same mindset will have to apply to their matchup tonight against the Ducks. Making too many passes and trying to be cute in the offensive zone could come back to haunt them. The objective has to be to produce as many high-danger shots as possible and crash the net.
Pressure the Puck
Whether it’s Gustavsson or Fleury in net tonight, the Wild’s defensive corps has to be willing to take chances and pressure the puck, as there have been times this season when the defense has been caught puck-watching. However, they have only allowed five goals over the past four games, and the high-quality play of the defense has been a big reason for the recent success. The Wild’s forwards also need to be contributing on the back check, mitigating defensive zone time as much as possible. The Ducks have some talented players, and if the Wild are caught watching, the puck will end up in the back of their net.
Tonight’s game can be found on Bally Sports North and ESPN+ beginning at 9:00 CT.