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Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks 2/10/18 @ 7:00PM CST at Xcel Energy Center

Minnesota Wild (29-19-6)  64pts  5th in the Central

2.94 Goals For Per Game (13th in the NHL)

2.87 Goals Against Per Game (17th in the NHL)

21.6% Power Play (9th in the NHL)

80.8% Penalty Kill (16th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #12 Eric Staal ~ 24G 25A = 49pts

2. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 15G 28A = 43pts

3. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 22G 18A = 40pts

4. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 6G 28A = 34pts

5. #24 Matt Dumba ~ 10G 20A = 30pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 53 PIM’s

2. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 38 PIM’s

3. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 34 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (21-10-4)  2.68GAA  .916%SP  3SO

2. #32 Alex Stalock (8-9-2)  2.77GAA  .914%SP  1SO

 

 

Vs.

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks (24-22-8)  56pts  7th in the Central

2.91 Goals For Per Game (14th in the NHL)

2.80 Goals Against Per Game (14th in the NHL)

15.7% Power Play (29th in the NHL)

82.8% Penalty Kill (5th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #88 Patrick Kane ~ 21G 32A = 53pts

2. #8 Nick Schmaltz ~ 15G 24A = 39pts

3. #19 Jonathan Toews ~ 15G 20A = 35pts

4. #12 Alex DeBrincat ~ 19G 15A = 34pts

5. #2 Duncan Keith ~ 0G 25A = 25pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 52 PIM’s

2. #40 John Hayden ~ 43 PIM’s

3. #57 Tommy Wingels ~ 37 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #31 Anton Forsberg (5-9-3)  2.95GAA  .910%SP

2. #30 Jeff Glass (3-4-3)  3.12GAA  .908%SP

Lines:

Chicago Blackhawks

DeBrincat~Toews~Duclair

Hartman~Anisimov~Kane

Saad~Schmaltz~Hinostroza

Sharp~Kampf~Wingels

Keith~Oesterle

Gustafsson~Seabrook

Kempny~Rutta

Forsberg

Glass

Minnesota Wild

Zucker~Koivu~Granlund

Ennis~Staal~Niederreiter

Parise~Cullen~Coyle

Winnik~Eriksson Ek~Foligno

Suter~Spurgeon

Olofsson~Dumba

Reilly~Prosser

Dubnyk

Stalock

In the past I have talked about how I enjoy video games, and I’ve particularly enjoyed Electronic Arts‘ NHL series.  From the best one ever NHL ’94 to your current NHL ’18, the games get kudos for not only being fun but their attempts to include the small details that only your dedicated NHL fans would notice.  Like goal horns, or as the case was with NHL ’94 the team signature organ music.  Even if you decided to play in a mode where the players have their own stamina bars, the overall effort of your team didn’t fade unless you got greedy.  This is where it is unfortunate the Minnesota Wild are not in a video game.

In the mid-2nd period of their game on Thursday against the last place Arizona Coyotes, the Wild were up 3-0 and despite sloppy play most of the game appeared to be in control.  Unfortunately they tried to coast and the 3-0 turned into a 3-3 tie with just 18.5 seconds left in the 3rd, and in overtime Clayton Keller sealed the comeback effort with an overtime game winner for Arizona.  It was a painful lesson and a squandered opportunity for 2 points by the Wild.  Yet if they somehow forgot how costly a mistake can be all they had to do was watch the Islanders / Red Wings game last night where a 5-minute slashing major by Tyler Bertuzzi flipped a 5-2 Detroit lead to 6-5 Islanders as they struck 4-times on the man advantage.  Yikes!

As the Wild started a 5-game homestand, the loss to team that had just 12 wins coming into the game has to sting.  However, perhaps they were looking at tonight’s game instead of focusing on the one right in front of them.  Chicago trails the Wild by 8 points but Minnesota cannot take another night off as they’re still barely holding onto the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

Chicago is sitting in last in the Central Division.  A big reason for that is Corey Crawford‘s struggles with vertigo, which has kept him on the shelf and the Blackhawks haven’t found an answer between Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass.  Defensively the team has been more suspect as they’ve been forced to swap out top quality defenseman with younger, less experienced players.  But even Chicago’s veterans have been suspect as Brent Seabrook‘s play has been shaky enough that he’s been a healthy scratch.

Offensively the Blackhawks, beyond the performance of Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz their key offensive contributors haven’t found the back of the net frequently enough to make up for their defensive woes.  Jonathan Toews hasn’t seen his offensive numbers re-ignited with the return of Brandon Saad who flatlined after a fast start.  The lack of consistent secondary scoring has plagued this club. (knock on wood)

Minnesota may debut a new player this evening as newly acquired Viktor Loov practiced with the team yesterday.  Loov has played in 4 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 25-year old defenseman from Sodertalje, Sweden will hopefully push any of the Wild’s bottom 3 defenders to stay sharp.  He is a two-way defender who likes to hit which would be welcome presence on Minnesota’s blueline.

Normally one wouldn’t think the Wild would think of playing a guy with such limited NHL experience as Loov but after Thursday’s debacle against the Coyotes, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau described the play of the team’s defense as “abysmal.”  He was also quick to say that Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson (who have had their struggles this season) were not the culprits which would implicate the veterans.  Without question they will have to be better if they expect to defeat the Blackhawks tonight.

Offensively the Wild will also hope for a better effort from the Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker line which was notably poor against the Coyotes.  This line had been on fire until Thursday.  Eric Staal continues to be the Wild’s most consistent scorer and Charlie Coyle seems to be heating up.  Zach Parise looks like his old self, being pesky in the corners and in around the crease.  Hopefully this group comes out and gives a resurgent effort tonight.

It will be interesting to see who the Wild go with between the pipes.  Devan Dubnyk was just ok and it would not surprise me if Alex Stalock gets the start.  While Dubnyk certainly is the team’s undisputed #1 goaltender, Stalock has played well enough that Boudreau trusts him even in pivotal games like this one.

So what are the keys to a Wild victory this evening?

  1. Shut down Kane ~ Patrick Kane is Chicago’s most dangerous player and Minnesota can improve their chances by committing to shutting him down.  Certainly that is easier said than done, but if they can keep him off the scoresheet their chances of winning improve considerably.
  2. Keep it simple & attack the crease ~ Minnesota needs to take a simplified approach offensively.  Take the shots the Blackhawks give them and work their way in close and apply maximum pressure on Chicago’s defense.  There is no reason to let Anton Forsberg or Jeff Glass feel comfortable, get bodies moving to the paint and they’ll be rewarded.
  3. Protect the middle of the ice ~ defensively the Wild are at their best when they keep opponents to the perimeter and limit the amount of high quality scoring chances.

What do you think are some keys to the Wild being successful against Chicago?  Tell us @CreaseAndAssist on Twitter or in the comment section below!