The Minnesota Wild are back in action tonight against the reigning Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche. If ever there was a chance to shrug off the last two games, it would be by laying down their first win of the season against a very talented team. The Calgary Flames proved it was possible when they picked up a win against the Avalanche on Oct.13. Hopefully, the Wild have been studying the tapes and learning the secret to defeating their division rivals.
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It may be early in the season, but this already has the makings of a big game for the Wild. Another defeat like those suffered against the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings would set off the alarm bells. If they can manage to put together some sort of game with solid defense, average goaltending, and the same offensive skill, it would go a long way in showing that Minnesota will be as competitive this season as they were in 2021-22.
Wild Projected Lineup
After two big losses, it’s no surprise that the line combinations have changed as head coach Dean Evason tries to find a way to stop the bleeding.
Kirill Kaprizov – Tyson Jost – Mats Zuccarello
Marcus Foligno – Joel Eriksson Ek – Ryan Hartman
Freddy Gaudreau – Sam Steel – Matt Boldy
Mason Shaw – Connor Dewar – Brandon Duhaime
Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Alex Goligoski – Calen Addison
Filip Gustavsson – Marc-Andre Fleury
Zuccarello is questionable for tonight’s game after he left practice early. His absence would bring Marco Rossi back into the fold after logging four minutes against the Kings on Oct. 15 and being slated to be a healthy scratch.
Of note is former Avalanche Tyson Jost being promoted to the first-line center position against his old team. Jost had a fantastic preseason and has looked solid as a replacement for the injured Jordan Greenway. If Zuccarello is out tonight, that top-line vacancy could be filled by Matt Boldy, who has been the best player on the Wild so far. Meanwhile, Hartman has struggled to find his game on top of taking a few ill-advised penalties and will be dropping down to Jost’s old spot as a result.
The defense looks mostly the same, while goaltender Filip Gustavsson will get his first start of the season as Marc-Andre Fleury struggles to find his game. Gustavsson saved 17 of 20 shots against the Kings after replacing Fleury for the last two periods. A league-average performance from Gustavsson tonight could boost their chances of a win as even a moderate goaltending performance has been difficult for the Wild to find so far this season.
Avalanche Projected Lineup
The Avalanche’s lines are mostly the same from their previous matchup as they are still without their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, and veteran Darren Helm. Both players have lingering injuries stemming from last season’s championship run.
Artturi Lehkonen – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Evan Rodrigues – Alex Newhook – Valeri Nichushkin
Andrew Cogliano – J.T. Compher – Logan O’Connor
Ben Meyers – Lukas Sedlak – Kurtis MacDermid
Devon Toews – Cale Makar
Bowen Byram – Josh Manson
Samuel Girard – Erik Johnson
Alexandar Georgiev – Pavel Francouz
The Avs’ new goaltender Alexandar Georgiev will get his second start tonight, as the former Rangers backup becomes a potential starter on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Georgiev and Pavel Francouz both played second fiddle in the 2021-22 season and are now competing to become a true number one. Georgiev had 15 wins in 33 starts last season with a save percentage under .900.
Key Players to Watch
Minnesota Wild – Matt Boldy
The idea that Boldy was going to fall prey to the dreaded sophomore slump or falter without Kevin Fiala on his line was thrown out with the snow the Zamboni dumps in the back.
If there has been a bright spot to the Wild’s horrific start, it has been the reassurance that Boldy is a superstar in the making. He is tied with Zuccarello for the team lead in goals (2), assists (2), and total points (4) and has done so as the driving force on his line while averaging less ice time per game. He leads the team in expected goals for and has only been on the ice for a single goal against.
Even if all goes wrong again, fans should be comforted knowing that Boldy can be the bright spot on a team that has allowed seven goals against. He appears to be the most dedicated player, works hard, keeps his spirits high, and is trying very hard to elevate the team’s play. Boldy is the gold standard, and the rest of the team needs to get on his level for the wins to come easily.
Colorado Avalanche – Top Line
Colorado’s top trio – Artturi Lehkonen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen – has been otherworldly in the first two games. With a combined 13 points (three goals and 10 assists), averaging over 20 minutes of ice time each, and producing a Corsi-for percentage of nearly 75%, these three mean business. They were so good in the playoffs last season that Nichushkin was given an eight-year, $49 million ($6.125 million AAV) extension, and MacKinnon cashed in with an eight-year, $100.8 million ($12.6 million AAV) extension.
The Wild have no choice but to try to shut down this line (as much as a team can) if they plan to avoid dropping their first three games. With their goaltending in flux, any error in front of this trio will become goals before anyone realizes a mistake was made, and they can quickly pull a game out of reach. MacKinnon is set to become the highest-paid NHLer for a reason; he is a generational talent, and with two extremely talented wingers, there is no such thing as over-estimating this line.
The Wild’s third game of the 2022-23 season will be on Bally Sports North at 7:00 PM CT. So far, the team’s play has not been ideal. Hopefully, tonight will be the start of a streak in the opposite direction.
*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, Colorado Avalanche lines from @peter_baugh on Twitter, Minnesota Wild lines from @Russohockey on Twitter