Minnesota Wild Gameday Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs – 02/24/23

The Minnesota Wild are finally regaining some ground in the race to win the Central Division, as a four-game win streak combined with some good luck has catapulted them to within three points of the first-place Dallas Stars. The Wild have been finding ways to win low-scoring games as they try to figure out how to increase their offensive production. With the trade deadline just one week away, Friday night will be a true test of skill as they line up against the all-in Toronto Maple Leafs.

Minnesota Wild Gameday Preview Kirill Kaprizov, Matthew Boldy, Jared Spurgeon, and Marc-Andre Fleury
Kirill Kaprizov, Matthew Boldy, Jared Spurgeon, and Marc-Andre Fleury (The Hockey Writers)

Just six days ago the Wild assisted the Leafs in trading with the St. Louis Blues for Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari by retaining some of O’Reilly’s salary as the third team in the trade. They may momentarily regret that decision tonight as the Leafs’ new players have been significant additions to an already strong team.

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Wild Projected Lineup

Kirill Kaprizov – Ryan Hartman – Mats Zuccarello
Matt Boldy – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Jordan Greenway – Frederick Gaudreau – Brandon Duhaime
Mason Shaw – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reeves

Jake Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Alex Goligoski – Matt Dumba
Dakota Mermis – Calen Addison

Filip Gustavsson – Marc-Andre Fleury

Leafs Projected Lineup

Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
John Tavares – Ryan O’Reilly – Mitch Marner
Pierre Engvall – David Kampf – Calle Jarnkrok
Zach Aston-Reese – Noel Acciari – Alexander Kerfoot

Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano – Timothy Liljegren
Rasmus Sandin – Justin Holl

Ilya Samsonov – Joseph Woll

3 Keys to the Game

Top Line Dominance

The Wild’s top line has been up and down for most of the season, at times carrying the team and others looking like a complete mess. But constantly changing center on that line has hurt their chemistry, and it seems the solution all along was the same as last season: Ryan Hartman.

Related: Wild Trade Deadline Roster Ranking: Untouchable to Unwanted

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In the last nine games since Hartman was put back between Kaprizov and Zuccarello, he has four goals and two assists, all at five-on-five, where the Wild were struggling the most. His Corsi-for percentage of 57.75 and goals-for percentage of 63.64 are among the best on the Wild over that time. Say what you want about having help from an amazing pair of wingers, but no one else has been as effective between Kaprizov and Zuccarello as Hartman.

Bottom Four Defense Step Up

The coaching staff sent a big message to rookie Calen Addison by sitting him for four straight games despite that he was tied for the lead in assists by a rookie at the time. With an injury to Brodin and Merrill out with an illness, the Wild had no choice but to put Addison back in the lineup alongside Dakota Mermis, who was called up from their American League affiliate Iowa Wild.

Calen Addison Minnesota Wild
Calen Addison, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the bottom four completely rearranged, the Wild’s defence struggled against the bottom-of-the-league Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Hopefully, they worked out the kinks, as there will be no room for that same level of play against an offensively charged Maple Leafs squad.

Gustavsson is a Game Changer

When the Wild traded Cam Talbot for Gustavsson in July, no one expected his level of play to be this good. Filip “The Gus Bus” Gustavsson has gone from being a questionable backup to a future starter in just 26 games and has made it look easy, with 15 wins, a 2.11 goals-against average (GAA) and a .928 save percentage (SV%), both of which rank second in the NHL. His calm and collected style lends itself well to the Wild’s defensive strategies while also helping to settle things down when games get out of hand. Any night he is in net, he gives the Wild a shot to win, and that remains true tonight against the Maple Leafs.

Tonight’s matchup can be found on Bally Sports North Extra and KFan 100.3FM beginning at 6:00 CT.

*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, Wild lines from their last game on Feb. 23, and Maple Leafs lines from @dalter on Twitter.

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