After it seemed like the Minnesota Wild could make a run for the top of the Central Division, they are now clinging to third place by a point after dropping their last two games to the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. Tonight they will face the ever-potent Tampa Bay Lightning – who they beat earlier this month in a decisive 5-1 contest – in an effort to solidify their precarious footing and restart their climb to the top of the Central.
The Lightning went on a five-game tear shortly after losing to the Wild on Jan. 4 but have lost their last two games against the Albertan duo of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, allowing 11 goals against in those two games. They will be looking to rebound at home against the Wild tonight before facing the league-leading Boston Bruins on Thursday (Jan.26). The Lightning sit third in an extremely tough Atlantic Division but have an eight-point buffer on fourth place.
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
Marc-Andre Fleury – Filip Gustavsson
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Lightning Projected Lineup
Brandon Hagel – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Anthony Cirelli – Steven Stamkos – Alex Killorn
Ross Colton – Nick Paul – Patrick Maroon
Vladislav Namestikov – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Corey Perry
Victor Hedman – Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev – Nicklaus Perbix
Ian Cole – Erik Cernak
Andrei Vasilevskiy – Brain Elliot
3 Keys to the Game
Time to Put It All Together
The Wild’s 25-16-4 record is good for a .600 points percentage. If they continue at this rate, they could end the season with 99 points, a far cry from the franchise-best 113 points from 2021-22. Although they are a playoff team, the Wild are capable of much more than what they have shown so far. At times throughout their 45 games, they have provided strong play but have been unable to pull everything together at once.
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They have a top-five NHL goalie in Filip Gustavsson, they are second in expected goals against, and have a roster loaded with effective players and constant point producers led by Kirill Kaprizov. They have just struggled to find their confidence as a group. No one is expecting them to overtake the Bruins for the Presidents’ Trophy, but they have what it takes to be a contender.
Penalty Problem Needs to Stop
Minnesota continues to lose games because they can’t stay out of the penalty box, an issue that’s been a problem all season. The Wild are averaging 12.40 penalty minutes per game, the most of any team currently in a playoff spot, and it is inexcusable. They play a heavy, tough game that naturally lends itself to penalties, but they have a nasty habit of taking deflating minors in key moments of a game, and that will hurt them in the post-season if it isn’t rectified.
Time for a Trade
The Wild traded for Reaves in late Nov. after struggling to find their identity early in the season, and while his presence brought a much-needed boost in morale, it did nothing to fix the need for a top-six forward. There is a clear drop in talent after you get past Kaprizov, Zuccarello, Boldy, and Joel Eriksson Ek.
Steel has been a great fill-in at the number one center position, but he is just that, a fill-in. The Wild could really use another player who will help drive the offense instead of just going along for the ride, whether it comes in the form of a center or a winger. This has to happen if they want to do any sort of damage in the playoffs.
Tonight’s matchup can be found on Bally Sports North and KFan 100.3FM beginning at 6:00 CT.