Wild’s Top Line Continues to Shine in Win Over Blackhawks

The Minnesota Wild headed home Thursday night to face the Chicago Blackhawks and inched themselves one game closer to finishing the preseason. They pounced on some early mistakes by the Blackhawks’ defense and secured a lead halfway through the first period with back-to-back goals just 19 seconds apart. That kept their opponent at bay until the second period when the Blackhawks got on the board and made it 2-1.

The Wild answered back and resumed their two-goal lead a short time later on a swift pass from Kirill Kaprizov to Mats Zuccarello to make it 3-1. They added one more in the third to make it 4-1 before time ran out and they tallied their fifth win of the preseason.

Wild’s Level of Compete

Every player that stepped onto the ice for the Wild had one thing in common; their level of intensity. They played like it was game 76 of the regular season and every point mattered rather than game six of the preseason where no points were on the line. Every line had a great amount of chemistry and of course, the top line that everyone wanted to see of Kaprizov, Marco Rossi, and Zuccarello led the way with five points combined.

Marco Rossi Minnesota Wild
Marco Rossi, Minnesota Wild (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was very impressive to see all four lines working like they’d been playing together for years, and not just a couple of weeks. Of course, Kaprizov and Zuccarello were paired together last season but a lot of these lines are new this season. Inserting Sam Steel onto the second line as the center and moving Frederick Gaudreau to the wing was one of those combinations and it worked well. Watching this game it’s clear the Wild have a lot of options to work with and it’ll be fun to see them over the course of the season.

Rossi Centers Top Line

Rossi’s spot in the Wild’s roster has been a debated topic all offseason with some saying fourth-line center while others saying top-line center. The fans of Rossi playing top-line center were able to see that plan unfold against the Blackhawks and it was very successful. In hockey, you hope to make the right line choice where the players immediately bond and that is exactly what happened when he was inserted onto the top line.

Everyone has seen the no-look passes between Kaprizov and Zuccarello with their almost telepathic connection, but it turns out Rossi has that talent too. He made sure to give it his all while playing on the top line because he knew his time there was limited. While there are some open spots on the roster, the top center spot is not one of them as it still belongs to Ryan Hartman who was given the night off.

While Rossi has many talents, he also tends to take penalties. He’s done a good job to stay out of the box most of the preseason but it came back to bite him against the Blackhawks. Thankfully for the Wild, they were able to kill off his two penalties without any harm done but it’s something he’ll have to be careful of in the regular season.

Last season he played for the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League and in 63 games he had 46 minutes of penalties. Compare that to his linemate Kaprizov who played in 81 games for the Wild and had 34. He’ll have to learn to keep his time in the penalty box to a minimum, like Kaprizov, so he can be out scoring goals instead of sitting in the box.

Steel Steals the Show

Of course, the Wild’s top line got most of the limelight in this win but there’s a new player who’s on the rise as well. His name is Sam Steel and he joined the Wild this offseason after playing the previous four with the Anaheim Ducks. He didn’t waste any time getting adjusted to his new team as he tallied two assists in his first game with both of them coming on goals scored by Tyson Jost.

Against the Blackhawks, Steel showed his scoring skills again with a goal and an assist. He wasn’t only successful during five-on-five action, but he was also utilized a lot on special teams. He’s an aggressive style player that fits in well with how the Wild have changed their penalty kill style to be more assertive and not sit back on their heels.

Sam Steel Anaheim Ducks
Sam Steel, former Anaheim Ducks, current Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the Wild taking 14 penalty minutes against the Blackhawks, Steel’s ability to jump in on the kill is exactly what they needed and will continue to need as the season moves forward. He works great with both Jost and Matt Boldy and it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in when they hit the ice next week for the regular season.

Wild Finish Preseason

There were so many good things that happened in the Wild’s win over the Blackhawks and they have one more game to go before the preseason comes to a close. They had a lot of scoring but there was also some great puck protection throughout the game that has to be mentioned.

Related: Wild Add Sam Steel to Finish Out Their 2022-23 Roster

One example that stood out was Connor Dewar who showed his awareness level with the puck when he was heading down the ice and noticed the two players coming to stop him. Rather than continuing, he quickly pivoted in the opposite direction and lost them both without losing control of the puck. It may not seem like a big deal but those types of small plays are what will set this team apart from others.

They have a lot of awareness and skills to score goals and also prevent them. The Wild will have to use those skills one more time against the Dallas Stars to finish out their preseason strong Saturday evening. That game will be the final chance they have to fine-tune anything before they hit the ice for the regular season on Oct. 13 against the New York Rangers. That game will be a true test of the Wild’s abilities and hopefully, they’re able to start the season off on the right foot with a big win.

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