The Minnesota Wild came out on top in their late-night contest with the Anaheim Ducks, but there is no time to rest because they are right back in action tonight against the San Jose Sharks. Their current six-game winning streak is a result of a dominating month of December in which they have won nine out of their 11 games played, with four or more goals in seven of those contests. Currently sitting third in the Central Division, they are three points behind the Winnipeg Jets and four points behind the Dallas Stars. A win tonight could set up some important divisional games post-Christmas, as they will meet the Jets on Dec. 27 and the Stars on Dec. 29.
The struggling Sharks are currently on a three-game losing streak that has dropped them to second last in the Pacific Division and bottom five in the overall standings. With their point-leading forward, Tomas Hertl, suspended, and former-Wild center Luke Kunin out for the remainder of the season, the Sharks’ remaining playoff aspirations are all but evaporated. For all the negatives to their season, they were able to defeat the Wild in their first meeting earlier this season in a shootout. With the Wild on the second half of a back-to-back, nothing is out of the question, especially with the resurgence of Erik Karlsson as one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.
Wild Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Matt Boldy – Frederick Gaudreau – Ryan Hartman
Mason Shaw – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reeves
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Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill – Calen Addison
Filip Gustavsson – Marc Andre Fleury
Sharks Projected Lineup
Timo Meier – Nick Bonino – Kevin Lebanc
Matthew Nieto – Logan Couture – Alexander Barabanov
Noah Gregor – Nico Sturm – Evgeny Svechnikov
Jonah Gadjovich – Steven Lorentz – Oskar Lindblom
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Scott Harrington – Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Matt Benning
Mario Ferraro – Radim Simek
Kappo Kahkonen – James Reimer
3 Keys to the Game
When a team gets their goaltender on a hot streak they immediately become a difficult squad to beat, but if you can get a tandem of goalies that are both on fire, they can become a juggernaut. While the sample size is a little small, the Wild are currently well on their way to the latter, as both Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson have been phenomenal lately, helping dispel some of the negativity pointed at their overall potential.
In the last six games, the Wild’s netminders have both started three games, won three games, have a goals-against average of 1.00, and save percentages of .959 (Fleury) and .963 (Gustavsson). It currently does not matter who the Wild put in the net, the other team is going to be hard-pressed to beat them.
Continued Defensive Commitment
In the last six games, the Wild have only allowed a total of six goals, and while some of that lies on the goaltending, a lot of the praise can be placed on the entire team’s commitment to solid defensive play. Strong defensive-zone coverage, forcing opponents to the outside, winning board battles, and blocking shots are all contributing to a very low number of shots making it through to the goalies, with an even lower amount being quality chances. A team determined to maintain that style of play can frustrate opponents, force turnovers, and convert on those mistakes to run away with the game.
Use the Upcoming Holiday
A team on the second game of a back-to-back is going to be tired. Their skates move a little slower and the plays just don’t have the crispness that they usually do; however, the Wild are looking at a four-day Christmas vacation after tonight’s game. While it may not help with the physical aspect, it could most certainly have an impact on their mentality. Knowing that they will have just those extra few days with family and friends to recover should allow them to leave it all on the ice and march into the holidays on a positive note.
Tonight’s matchup can be found on Bally Sports North and KFan 100.3FM beginning at 9:30 CT.
*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, Sharks lines from their last game on Dec. 20, and Wild lines from their last game on Dec. 21.