One of the best – and maybe most underrated – rivalries in the NHL gets its newest instalment tonight as the Minnesota Wild travel to Winning to take on the Jets. The two Central Division teams might be spaced apart in the standings, with the Wild looking like Stanley Cup contenders while the Jets are seven points out of a playoffs spot, but these teams always play an entertaining game.
Last Tuesday, the teams met north of the border in Winnipeg. The Jets won the spirited affair 2-0, so the Wild will be searching for revenge tonight. Here’s a look at three keys to Wednesday’s game.
Wild Must Stay Disciplined
Like most games between the two, their last meeting was a physical contest. However, the Jets got under the Wild’s skin, and it helped them win. Less than 10 minutes into the game, two fights broke out side by side. Marcus Foligno fought Adam Lowry while just a few feet over, Jordan Greenway fought Brenden Dillon.
Foligno also made a very careless play later in the game. After a second tilt between the two players, Foligno apparently kneed Lowry in the head when he was down.
Foligno was given a two-game suspension for the knee, and he returns to the lineup tonight. It shouldn’t shock anyone if fights break out again tonight. Regardless, the Wild gave the Jets four power-play opportunities and totalled 23 penalty minutes last Tuesday. They will have to play physically without crossing the line if they want to walk away victorious.
Pressure the Jets’ Goaltender
In last week’s 2-0 loss, the Wild simply didn’t make goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s life hard enough. They were only outshot 29-27, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many of those shots were low-danger opportunities, and they didn’t drive the net, fight for rebounds, or create much offence in the slot.
Down 1-0 entering the third period, the Wild didn’t show much push-back. They only had two shots through the first 15 minutes and didn’t look very threatening with the man advantage, which has been one of their strengths all season.
If Hellebuyck is in net tonight, the Wild must do a better job of forcing him to make tough saves and to move side-to-side, fighting for rebound chances and getting into the slot. He is one of the league’s best and difficult to score against on any night. The Wild have the offensive firepower to beat him. They have the third-best goals-per-game ratio at 3.80, and they will need to display their scoring versatility to be successful.
Wild Need to Utilize Their Speed
Unlike Wild teams of the past, this one is built around skilled players who can skate with the league’s fastest. Everyone can point to Kirill Kaprizov’s game-breaking speed and edge work, but their offence relies on more than just him. The team has many players who love to play with speed, including Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello, and rookie Matthew Boldy. However, the Jets boast an offence that includes Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler, who also love to play with speed.
The Wild must use their speed tonight to force turnovers, limit time and space with the puck, and create chances off the rush. It’s something they have done well all season, but like many other elements, it wasn’t executed well enough in their last matchup with the Jets. So much of the game is generated from speed, and Minnesota will have to keep their legs moving all game tonight for a chance to win.
This should be an entertaining game for fans to watch tonight, especially for those who tune in to see if another physical warfare breaks out. However, for head coach Dean Evason and his team, their only focus should be on earning two points. If they can stay disciplined, create more scoring chances, and use their speed to their advantage, they should be able to get their revenge on the Jets on Wednesday night.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.