The Minnesota Wild take on the Vancouver Canucks in the last game of the season-opening homestand, after which a five-game east coast road trip will commence. While both the Wild and the Canucks are winless so far this season, the Canucks at least managed to squeeze a single point out of their last game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 18. In contrast to the Wild not having led a game at any point so far this season, the Canucks have had leads in every one of their games, after which they then proceed to fall apart and end up losing. The good news for both teams: someone has to win tonight.
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Goaltending has been a major area of concern for both of these teams’ start to the season. The quartet of goaltenders from the two combined rosters have allowed a combined 38 goals against in only seven games, with the highest overall save percentage belonging to backup Spencer Martin, who managed a .879 in his one game played. With names like Marc-Andre Fleury and Thatcher Demko on their respective rosters, those stats just don’t seem to fit. These are goaltenders that have shown they can be elite and produce consistent, quality games. Since it’s the NHL and the stats say we should expect another extremely high-scoring game tonight, I expect a 1-0 victory with over 40 saves from each netminder.
Wild Projected Lineup
Inconsistencies and poor play have led to an ever-changing lineup for the first three games of the season, but with the return of the injured Jordan Greenway, the Wild may be able to get back to some more consistent lines.
Kirill Kaprizov – Ryan Hartman – Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Freddy Gaudreau – Marco Rossi – Matt Boldy
Brandon Duhaime – Sam Steel – Tyson Jost
Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Alex Goligoski – Calen Addison
Marc-Andre Fleury – Filip Gustavsson
There are two major talking points when comparing this version of the Wild’s lineup to the one they iced against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct.17. The major difference maker is the return of an intact GREEF line composed of Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno. While that line was doing okay without Greenway, it has been proven that his presence on that line gives it a whole new dynamic, acting as one of the most effective shut-down lines in the NHL. Allowing the GREEF line to compete with the other teams’ top line frees up the Wild’s scoring lines to have better matches against opponents’ weaker lines, while simultaneously being more effective in the defensive zone.
The second interesting point in these lines is the return of Marco Rossi after being a healthy scratch. He is set to center for Matt Boldy and Freddy Gaudreau as his first opportunity to play out of the fourth-line role he started the season in. While there are some high expectations from the fans on what he can bring to the team, the coaching staff has so far been unimpressed with what he has delivered. He will have to bring it tonight in order to avoid losing his new spot to Tyson Jost or Sam Steel, who have been playing well lately.
Canucks Projected Lineup
The Canucks have had a rotating roster of their own as they attempt to build some confidence and learn how to play with a lead once it is established.
Connor Garland – J.T. Miller – Ilya Mikheyev
Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Brock Boeser
Andrei Kuzmenko – Elias Pettersson – Vasily Podkolzin
Dakota Joshua – Nils Aman – Curtis Lazar
Quinn Hughes – Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers
Riley Stillman – Kyle Burroughs
Thatcher Demko – Spencer Martin
The Canucks roster has a similar feel to the Wild’s in that the lines are not hard set as the first, second, third and fourth. The lines are played based on which are performing well that night against specific opponents. Their depth at center is the real key to making that strategy work, as Elias Petterson, J.T. Miller, and Bo Horvat have been some of the most productive players on the team.
Key Players to Watch
Minnesota Wild – Jordan Greenway
The reintroduction of Greenway allows everyone to slot back into a more natural role, while the resurgence of the shut-down line would also allow for more favorable matchups. The 6-foot-6 power forward weighs in at 230 pounds, making him one of the largest bodies on the Wild’s roster. While he doesn’t always play the most hard-hitting game, he definitely adds to the imposing nature of the GREEF line that helps to make it so effective.
With 27 points last year (10 goals and 17 assists) he was on his way to having a career year, but unfortunately missed 20 games for various reasons. If he can manage to stay healthy this season and continue to improve his offensive output without sacrificing his strong defensive game, Greenway may become one of the most valuable players on the roster. He signed a bargain extension last season for three years at $3 million per year.
Vancouver Canucks – Elias Pettersson
The fifth-overall pick in the 2017 Draft has developed into a solid two-way center, producing three seasons of 66 or more points in his four years of NHL experience. While his point-per-game production was a little bit lower in 2021-22 due to a rough start, he really caught fire once the Canucks brought in new head coach Bruce Boudreau, former head coach of the Wild. The shakeup was all he needed; soon after Pettersson was on pace for 97 points over a full 82-game campaign.
With three goals and three assists already this season, it looks like the makings of a breakout year for the young Swede as he tries to assert his claim as the best center on the team. With multiple points in the last two games, the Wild will have to focus on shutting down his offense if they plan to come away with a win tonight.
Tonight’s potential first win of the 2022-23 season will be on Bally Sports North at 7:00 PM CT. Either way, these are two desperate teams that are in need of a change of luck, and it should make for some good hockey.
*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, Vancouver Canucks lines from @harmandayal2 on Twitter, Minnesota Wild lines from @Russohockey on Twitter