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Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Columbus Blue Jackets 10/14/17 @ 7:00PM CST at Xcel Energy Center

Minnesota Wild (1-1-1)  3pts  5th in the Central

3.67 Goals For Per Game (7th in the NHL)

3.33 Goals Against Per Game (20th in the NHL)

18.2% Power Play (16th in the NHL)

73.3% Penalty Kill (27th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #10 Chris Stewart ~ 4G 1A = 5pts

2. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 2G 2A = 4pts

3. #12 Eric Staal ~ 2G 1A = 3pts

4. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 2G 0A = 2pts

5. #14 Joel Eriksson Ek ~ 1G 1A = 2pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 5 PIM’s

2. #26 Daniel Winnik ~ 4 PIM’s

3. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 4 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (1-1-0)  3.04GAA  .913%SP

2. #32 Alex Stalock (0-0-1)  3.74GAA  .905%SP

 

 

Vs.

 

 

Columbus Blue Jackets (3-1-0)  6pts  3rd in the Metropolitan

2.75 Goals For Per Game (18th in the NHL)

1.75 Goals Against Per Game (3rd in the NHL)

10% Power Play (25th in the NHL)

90% Penalty Kill (7th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #22 Sonny Milano ~ 4G 0A = 4pts

2. #9 Artemi Parnarin ~ 1G 3A = 4pts

3. #8 Zach Werenski ~ 1G 2A = 3pts

4. #3 Seth Jones ~ 1G 2A = 3pts

5. #10 Alexander Wennberg ~ 0G 3A = 2pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #36 Zac Dalpe ~ 9 PIM’s

2. #11 Matt Calvert ~ 5 PIM’s

3. #58 David Savard ~ 2 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #72 Sergei Bobrovsky (3-0-0)  .65GAA  .981%SP  1SO

2. #70 Joonas Korpisalo (0-1-0)  5.00GAA  .828%SP

Lines:

Columbus Blue Jackets

Parnarin~Wennberg~Atkinson

Milano~Ni. Foligno~Bjorkstrand

DuBois~Dubinsky~Calvert

Hannikainen~Sedlak~Dalpe

Werenski~Jones

Johnson~Savard

Murray~Carlsson

Bobrovsky

Korpisalo

Minnesota Wild

Eriksson Ek-Staal-Stewart

Ennis-Koivu-Zucker

Winnik-Cullen-Kunin

Ferraro-Mitchell-Bertschy

Suter-Spurgeon

Brodin-Dumba

Quincey-Olofsson

Dubnyk

Stalock

What can I say about Thursday night against Chicago, other than it felt really damn good.  Heck, just seeing Blackhawks’ Head Coach Joel Quenneville that angry was fun all by itself.  I know I had no indication that we would see the resilient, calm and collected Minnesota Wild.  I mean we all saw them in Detroit and Raleigh, and there wasn’t much (good) to talk about.  They played with little structure and little real fire and the results spoke for themselves, two losses to clubs that missed the playoffs last year.  Fast forward to Thursday and it was obvious that the practices the team had during its 5-day layoff were well spent as the team was far more responsible defensively and they managed to earn a win over a red-hot Blackhawks team.

Even though it was a better effort, the victory also came at a huge cost to the club as it lost 3 key forwards to injury in the process.  Charlie Coyle would block a shot with the back of his skate and its speculated he may have a broken tibia that could keep him out of the line up for perhaps as long as 4-6 weeks, meanwhile Nino Niederreiter had Tanner Kero fall backwards onto his leg giving him an ankle sprain.  Both were unlucky accidents, but that’s two players out of your top 6.  Lastly, Marcus Foligno would drop the gloves with little known rookie and Yale graduate John Hayden and the Wild tough guy would get ‘tagged’ with a vicious haymaker.  Foligno never returned to the game and it is believed he may have a fractured cheek bone.  I haven’t seen a devastating punch like that since Derek Boogaard shattered Todd Fedoruk‘s face.  Ouch!  Check it out for yourself, it wasn’t pretty.

Foligno was leading the team in hits and starting to exhibit some decent chemistry and when you toss in the groin injury to Mikael Granlund and continued back-woes of Zach Parise and the Minnesota Wild have a Grand Canyon-sized void in their lineup.  Up tight against the salary cap, the team has been forced to make due with at least one less forward that they should have.  The Wild sent defenseman Mike Reilly down to Iowa in order to free up enough cap space to bring up Luke Kunin.  Kunin, the team’s 1st round pick in 2016 will make his NHL debut this evening and likely be used in a Top 6 role which best suits his skillset and is major opportunity for him to show he belongs.  Many felt Kunin had a great pre-season, but cap constraints may have been the deciding factor to send him down to Iowa over Joel Eriksson Ek who seemed to struggle a bit.  Now the club will need both of the youngsters to step up to help make up for the losses we’ve already mentioned.

Still the team will be short a few forwards so it called up a bunch of players from Iowa.  Christoph Bertschy and Zack Mitchell have been up with the club before and have been loyal soldiers in Iowa the last few seasons, while Landon Ferraro gets his first chance to play with the big club.  None of these players will likely bring a lot of offense, but they usually get props for working hard and being defensively responsible.  That will put more pressure on veterans Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart and Jason Zucker to carry the offense.  It may not be ideal, but it is the situation the team finds itself in until other players return to health.

On the blueline, there is still room for improvement.  Beyond the pairing of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon the Wild at times looked a bit shaky against Chicago.  Mathew Dumba and Jonas Brodin at times struggle to work the puck out of their own zone and no doubt Columbus will try to force the issue this evening.  On the 3rd pairing, Kyle Quincey also had some ‘what the hell are you doing’ moments when he was chasing forwards out to the point in his own end while he’ll be paired with Gustav Olofsson.

Olofsson has been in the lineup the last two games because the team didn’t have a spare forward to use so we dressed a 7th defenseman instead and has been played sparingly averaging just a little over 5 minutes of ice time per game.  I am not in the Wild locker room, but when a team that is short players is only giving him 5 minutes of ice time that doesn’t tell me the team has a ton of confidence in him or that he’s playing great.  5 minutes per game are enforcer-like minutes but now he’s going to have to play closer to the 15:41 Quincey has averaged so far this season.  So why didn’t we send Olofsson down?  He would’ve required waivers and the team didn’t want to lose him for nothing, where as Reilly could be sent down without consequence so even though he was playing much better than Olofsson he gets to take the trip down I-35 to Des Moines.  Who said life was fair?!?!

Now to talk about our opponents, our expansion sister Columbus Blue Jackets.  Columbus is a deep and talented squad that seems to be benefiting so far from the moves they made this summer.  Artemi Panarin has been terrific early on and the Blue Jackets have lots of fairly young talent (Alexander Wennberg, Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois) to give them enviable depth with a team that is still over $5 million underneath the salary cap.  The club has bought in to John Tortorella‘s demanding, yet tenacious approach and Columbus is a miserable team to play against.  Gritty, fast and yet skilled enough to capitalize on mistakes.  Led by captain Nick Foligno and alternate captain Brandon Dubinsky who sort of embody that philosophy all by themselves.

As good as Columbus is up front, they are pretty solid on the back end with 3 solid defensive pairs led by young stars Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.  Both combine mobility, hockey smarts and a two-way game; not too shabby for 20-year old and 23-year old top pairing.  Jack Johnson and David Savard are the veterans of the blueline and they have another promising youngster in Gabriel Carlsson.  Ryan Murray, the once highly touted star is kind of the forgotten cog of the group.  If you can manage to get through this defense you only have Sergei Bobrovsky to get through; who is only sporting a .981 save percentage through 3 games this season.  Can you say yikes?!?!

So what are the keys to victory for tonight’s game?

  1. Keep it simple – There will be a lot of new bodies in tonight’s lineup, the Wild need to keep it simple and work pucks on goal instead of attempting the more nuanced set plays that they attempt with their normal lineup.  I have little doubt there will be a fair amount of line juggling by Bruce Boudreau, so keeping it simple means they’ll maximize their effectiveness.
  2. Attack the crease – Bobrovsky is having a stellar start to the season, but if there is any real weakness to Columbus is the fact they not a real big team.  So moving in close and trying to get quality shots will be important if they want to put a few behind ‘Bob’ this evening.  Taking away his vision with screens and working for deflections / redirections should also be a major part of the Wild’s offensive approach this evening.
  3. Shutdown the Breadman – Panarin certainly isn’t Columbus’ only offensive weapon, but he’s probably their most dangerous one.  This sounds like a great assignment for Jason Zucker or Matt Cullen.

Note to Readers:  We will not have our normal post-game report tonight, as we will be traveling.  We apologize for any inconvenience this causes and you can expect to see a post-game after next Friday’s game against Winnipeg.

What are your thoughts on tonight’s game?  Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment selection below!

I know with all of the new faces in the line up it has fans across the State of Hockey nervous, so to try to add a little levity to a tense time for our favorite team I have a super timely musical parody from Kari Wahlen, enjoy!