The Minnesota Wild are set to do battle with the Edmonton Oilers tonight as part of a three-game venture through western Canada. Though the Wild have won four of their last five games, Wednesday night’s loss to the Calgary Flames has to sting. After blowing a 2-0 lead, the Flames took advantage of the Wild’s lackluster special teams to come out with a 5-3 victory.
The Oilers are coming off a 7-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes and sit in the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Edmonton’s recent win was the scene of one of the best backhand passes we have seen in the NHL. It featured, you guessed it, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. The Minnesota club is in the third playoff spot in the Central Division, with an injury-plagued Colorado Avalanche club just one point behind. If the Wild want to win tonight’s game, it will require a full team effort.
Wild Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Nic Petan – Frederick Gaudreau – Matt Boldy
Mason Shaw – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reeves
Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill – Alex Goligoski
Marc Andre Fleury – Filip Gustavsson
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The lines are likely to remain unchanged for tonight’s competition, with Ryan Hartman and Brandon Duhaime still sitting out with injuries. The much-anticipated play of Marco Rossi will have to wait a bit longer, as he is still playing with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League (AHL). However, the silver lining is that the Wild’s current lineup is experiencing a lot of success, with Sam Steel making his case for the first-line centerman position (from “Wild’s Sam Steel a No. 1 center? Why his old Ducks teammates are ‘not surprised in the slightest’,” The Athletic, Dec. 9, 2022).
Oilers Projected Lineup
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zach Hyman
Mattias Janmark – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Kailer Yamamoto
Dylan Holloway – James Hamblin – Jesse Puljujarvi
Klim Kostin – Devin Shore – Derek Ryan
Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
Brett Kulak – Tyson Barrie
Philip Broberg – Evan Bouchard
Stuart Skinner – Jack Campbell
The Oilers are still missing key players, including goaltender Mike Smith and Evander Kane. However, the Wild will still have their hands full in the defensive zone, as the Oilers’ top line is always dangerous. Wild head coach Dean Evason reportedly shared that Cale Addison’s defensive play needs to improve. Knowing that his team is going to battle against the best duo in the NHL tonight, Evason likely wants to ensure that his defensemen are ready to go.
3 Keys to the Game
Wild’s Middle Six Need to Produce
It may sound like a cop-out, but the top line’s duty tonight has to be keeping McDavid and Draisaitl away from Marc-Andre Fleury. The Oilers’ top line is lethal in break-outs and offensive zone time. The difference is going to be whether the Wild’s “GREEF” line, made up of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Marcus Foligno will be able to produce effective scoring chances.
The “GREEF” line has collectively put up 13 goals and 19 assists this season. They will need to add to this total tonight if the Wild hope to leave Edmonton with another mark in the win column.
This doesn’t mean that the Wild shouldn’t be focused on scoring tonight. But going toe-to-toe with one of the best top lines in the NHL is not an easy task. Evason mentioned that Addison will come out of the lineup tonight because of his lack of airtight defense. The Wild need to err on the side of caution when it comes to their defense, and it will pay dividends if, say, Brodin and Dumba, choose to play conservatively tonight. They don’t need to make highlight-reel plays. Focusing on solid break-out passes and defensive play in their own end will be enough to pull this one out.
The Flower Has Bloomed
There’s no question that Fleury’s performance will make all the difference. Since his shaky start to the season, he has been blooming into the player Evason was hoping for when he was acquired at the end of last season. Though he has a .892 SV% and a 3.10 GAA, he has stood on his head in more than one game this season.
Minnesota will have to come out hungry and desperate to win if they want to earn two points tonight. The Oilers are capable of coming back from a multi-goal deficit, and the Wild cannot get caught resting on their haunches should they jump out early. The playoff race is tight in the Central Division, and this game is an opportunity for the Wild to create separation from their division rivals.
Tonight’s matchup can be Bally Sports North, Sportsnet, and ESPN+, beginning at 8:00 CT.
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C.G. played a lot of hockey in Wisconsin and Minnesota growing up. Now, he’s a hockey coach in Michigan. His fascination, love, and appreciation for hockey is why he’s here at The Hockey Writers, covering the Minnesota Wild. But he writes other things, too, including a novel entitled Project: Sleepless Dream. You can find him on Twitter @WritingTheWild.