The Minnesota Wild are set to take on the Winnipeg Jets in the third game of a seven-game homestand. Though the Wild fell short against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, they managed to bounce back with a hard-fought overtime win against a strong Carolina Hurricanes club on Saturday. The team is sitting at a .500 record right now (8-8-2), which has to be frustrating after setting a franchise record of 113 points last season.
Minnesota has been struggling to generate sustainable offense, scoring just nine goals in the past five games. However, the club’s defense seems to be firing on all cylinders, allowing 26 goals in 13 games, but six of those goals belong to the Penguins. The Wild will have to find a way to convert solid defensive play into productive offense, despite key injuries to Ryan Hartman and Jordan Greenway.
Oddly enough, the Jets are also coming off an overtime win against the Hurricanes. On Monday night, it seemed that the Jets were firmly in the driver’s seat, enjoying a two-goal lead entering the final frame. After potting another goal to take a 3-0 lead, the Hurricanes rallied back, scoring three unanswered goals of their own to put the game into extra minutes. Though the Jets squeezed out a victory, the Wild have to find a way to generate sustainable offense, keeping a strong Jets club (11-5-1) on their toes.
Wild Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Mats Zuccarello
Matt Boldy – Freddy Gaudreau – Nic Petan
Brandon Duhaime – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Marco Rossi – Connor Dewar – Mason Shaw
Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill – Calen Addison
Filip Gustavsson – Zane McIntyre
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The biggest change from the last game is Sam Steel getting the go-ahead to play with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on the top line tonight. Even though it might be too early to tell, Steel had a clutch moment against the Hurricanes, feeding a beautiful saucer pass to Alex Goligoski for the overtime win.
Jets Projected Lineup
Kyler Connor – Mark Scheifele – Sam Gagner
Cole Perfetti – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Blake Wheeler
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby – Adam Lowry – Saku Maenalanen
Jansen Harkins – David Gustafsson – Michael Eyssimont
Josh Morrissey – Neal Pionk
Nate Schmidt – Brenden Dillon
Dylan Samberg – Ville Heinola
It’s been indicated that Adam Lowry is still going to play, despite falling ill. This could signal that the annual flu that tends to rip through the league around this time is on its way.
3 Keys to the Game
Sam Steel on Top Line
Steel had a great game against the Hurricanes on Saturday, and it will now be up to him to make the most of his opportunity with Kaprizov and Zuccarello, two elite playmakers. The argument could be made that Steel hasn’t been producing because he’s been playing bottom-line minutes, but he’s about to get his shot, and he’s going to have to prove to head coach Dean Evason that he belongs alongside the most gifted players on the roster.
After making a stellar pass for the overtime win against the Hurricanes, Steel has to be feeling pretty good about himself and his game. If the Wild are going to pull out a win at home against Winnipeg, they’re going to need a solid performance from the 24-year-old centerman.
Gustavsson Has to Bring It
With Fleury still out of the lineup, Gustavsson is going to get the start between the pipes tonight. He hasn’t been the most reliable backup goaltender this season, putting up a 2-4 record and a .906 save percentage and allowing an average of 2.86 goals per game. These are not terrible numbers, so long as the Wild are potting goals of their own, which they’ve been struggling to do.
Offense Offense Offense
The bottom line is that the Wild need to find a way to score goals, and this can’t be left up to the top line. The bottom six need to contribute in meaningful ways. The club is doing its part on the defensive side of the puck, but they now need to work on being an offensive force. This could come down to playing an aggressive forecheck to increase the chances of turnovers in the neutral zone. If the Wild can establish a solid 2-1-2 forecheck, which they’ve done several times this season, they may be able to create some pivotal turnovers.
Tonight’s matchup can be watched on Sportsnet World, Bally Sports Network, and BSWIX at 7:00 PM CT.
C.G. played a lot of hockey in Wisconsin and Minnesota growing up. Now, he’s a hockey coach in Michigan. His fascination, love, and appreciation for hockey is why he’s here at The Hockey Writers, covering the Minnesota Wild. But he writes other things, too, including a novel entitled Project: Sleepless Dream. You can find him on Twitter @WritingTheWild.