The Minnesota Wild had a tough game against the New York Rangers on Jan.10, getting out-played for most of the game but somehow managed to collect a point in a shootout loss. Hopefully, they’ve refocused and are reinvigorated heading into the final game to complete the first half of the 2022-23 season tonight against the New York Islanders. The Islanders might be sixth in the Metropolitan Division, but they have just one point less than the Wild, albeit with two more games played. Both teams enter tonight’s event on three-game losing streaks, but only one will be broken.
This is the first of two meetings between the Wild and the Islanders this season, but make no mistake, the Islanders are having a much stronger showing than last season. Matthew Barzal leads the team as a point-per-game player, with 30 assists in 41 games. Their defense has been working by committee, with five players averaging between 20 and 21 minutes a night. If that wasn’t enough, in net they have an elite Russian tandem of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov, who have collectively put up a 2.69 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%).
Wild Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Matt Boldy – Frederick Gaudreau – Ryan Hartman
Brandon Duhaime – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reeves
Jake Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill – Calen Addison
Filip Gustavsson – Marc-Andre Fleury
Islanders Projected Lineup
Anders Lee – Mathew Barzal – Simon Holmstrom
Anthony Beauvillier – Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey
Zach Parise – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Hudson Fasching
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Sebastian Aho – Noah Dobson
Parker Wotherspoon – Ryan Pulock
Alexander Romanov – Scott Mayfield
Ilya Sorokin – Semyon Varlamov
3 Keys to the Game
Bring the Defense Back
There was a point this season – not long ago – when the Wild were playing some of the best defensive hockey in the league. Not only were they controlling the play, outshooting opponents, and dominating the neutral zone, but they were also utilizing every player on the ice to limit high-danger chances and convert them into an offensive attack.
Against the Rangers on Jan.10, the Wild’s defense did none of those things. They finished with a 35.25 Corsi-for percentage, a 42.67 shots-for percentage, and an abysmal 34.7 expected-goals-for percentage. In other words, they got the snot beat out of them, and a fantastic performance by Fleury is the only reason they got a point. If they plan on making the playoffs, they need to find constancy in their play, especially on defense.
Special Teams Need Less Use
It’s been a theme for a couple of seasons: the Wild take too many penalties. While they are known as a tough, hard-playing team, and that heavy style of play will naturally lend itself to penalties, they have to be more aware of the game situation and play a little more conservatively at times.
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With their penalty kill ranked among the league average and their road power-play percentage in the bottom five, they are not going to win many special-teams battles. Constant trips to the penalty box from both teams force some players to play heavy minutes while others hardly see any ice time, leading to an imbalance that has not (and will not) worked out for the Wild.
Be Willing to Try Different Line Combinations
When things are going well, there is usually no reason to alter anything; however, the Wild have lost three in a row, and it seems they only make changes to the lines due to injuries or illness. The top line is producing, and the “GREEF” line (Greenway, Eriksson Ek, and Foligno) is doing their job at shutting down opponents, but obviously, things could be better, or they would be winning more games. The organization seems opposed to trying new lines, but maybe dropping Steel down to play with Gaudreau and Boldy would ignite that line, and maybe Duhaime, Hartman, and Boldy could be a gritty, tough scoring line. The only way to find out is to try, and the best time to try is when things aren’t going well.
Tonight’s matchup can be found on Bally Sports North and KFan 100.3FM beginning at 6:30 CT.
Being from the east coast of Canada, I’ve grown up immersed in hockey since before I was old enough to walk. The Minnesota Wild joined the league right as I was trying to find a favourite team and I have been committed to them ever since. I like to take breaks from my day job of writing reports as a Scientist by writing articles about my hockey passion. Follow me on twitter @tysmck15 for my latest.