The Minnesota Wild came off the holidays ready to play, downing their Central Division rival Winnipeg Jets on Dec.27 to move within one point of second place. Tonight they line up against the Dallas Stars, ranked first in the Central. The battle for the top spot is a tight one and has the injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche down in fourth, while a Wild win tonight would give the top three teams an equal 21 wins on the season. With less than half of the 2022-23 season completed, there is plenty of room for movement in both directions, but there’s already a sense that this division will be a battle until the end.
The Stars are a top-five team in the league with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games. Helped by breakout seasons from Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger, they appear to be a serious contender. It will be a good measuring stick for the Wild, who have been up and down throughout their 34 games but did manage to collect a 6-5 shootout victory in the teams‘ first meeting on Dec. 4.
Wild Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Ryan Hartman
Matt Boldy – Frederick Gaudreau – Sammy Walker
Adam Beckman – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reeves
Jake Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill – Calen Addison
Marc Andre Fleury – Filip Gustavsson
Jets Projected Lineup
Jason Robertson – Roope Hintz – Joe Pavelski
Joel Kiviranta – Tyler Seguin – Ty Dellandrea
Jamie Benn – Wyatt Johnston – Mason Marchment
Fredrik Olofsson – Radek Faksa – Luke Glendening
Miro Heiskanen – Nils Lundkvist
Ryan Suter – Colin Miller
Esa Lindell – Jani Hakanpaa
Jake Oettinger – Scott Wedgewood
3 Keys to the Game
Play Disciplined Hockey
The Wild will have to play a tight game if they want to take down a Stars team full of stars. With a lethal mix of veterans and rookies that have combined for bucket-loads of offense, there is no room for mistakes. Minnesota has been known to try to make the pretty play over a safer option and have it come back to bite them.
“We don’t get opportunities by being a cute hockey team,” head coach Dean Evason said. “We’re grit with skill. We thought that we were just skilled tonight.”Dane Mizutani (from ‘Wild get too cute in frustrating loss to Red Wings,’ Twin Cities Pioneer Press, 10/29/2022)
Seven players in the lineup have already passed the 20-point mark, including Robertson, who ranks third in the NHL in points, with 51 (24 goals and 27 assists). There is no doubt they will take advantage of every opportunity the Wild give them.
Walker Continues Bid to Stay
One player has already been called up from the Iowa Wild and earned a roster spot this season, Mason Shaw (currently suspended for kneeing), and Sammy Walker is making his case to be the second. The 23-year-old is a former Tampa Bay Lightning seventh-round pick, but the Wild signed him in the offseason after the Lightning elected not to do so.
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Walker got called up after producing over a point per game in the American Hockey League (AHL) and has used his speed on a line with Gaudreau and Boldy to great success. With his first goal out of the way, there is every chance he starts producing more and finds himself a permanent piece of the NHL roster.
Don’t Shutdown Without the Shutdown Line
The Wild will again be without alternate captain Marcus Foligno, who is one-third of their best shutdown “GREEF” line with Eriksson-Ek and Greenway. While Hartman is a solid option as a replacement, he does not have as strong of a defensive game and, as such, throws the likely match-ups off. The GREEF line would be the obvious choice to play against the Stars’ top line, but since it’s not available, the Wild will be forced to find another way to slow them down.
Tonight’s matchup can be found on Bally Sports North and KFan 100.3FM beginning at 7:00 CT.
*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, Stars lines from their last game on Dec. 27, and Wild lines from @jessi_pierce on Twitter.