Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Anaheim Ducks 10/15/21 @ 9:00PM CST at Honda Center

Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Anaheim Ducks 10/15/21 @ 9:00PM CST at Honda Center

Wild

Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Anaheim Ducks 10/15/21 @ 9:00PM CST at Honda Center

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Minnesota Wild (35-16-5)  75pts*

3.21 Goals Per Game For (9th in the NHL)*

2.84 Goals Per Game Against (15th in the NHL)*

17.6% Power Play (24th in the NHL)*

80.8% Penalty Kill (12th in the NHL)*

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 27G 24A = 51pts*

2. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 20G 20A = 40pts*

3. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 11G 24A = 35pts*

4. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 6G 26A = 32pts*

5. #14 Joel Eriksson Ek ~ 19G 11A = 30pts*

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 49 PIM’s*

2. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 49 PIM’s*

3. #24 Matthew Dumba ~ 46 PIM’s*

Top Goaltenders:

1. #33 Cam Talbot (19-8-5)  2.63GAA  .915%SP  2SO*

2. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen (16-8)  2.88GAA  .902%SP  2SO*

 

Vs.

 

Anaheim Ducks (1-0-0)  2pts  1st in the Pacific

4.00 Goals Per Game For (11th in the NHL)

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

40% Power Play (9th in the NHL)

100% Penalty Kill (5th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #37 Mason McTavish ~ 1G 1A = 2pts

2. #33 Jakob Silfverberg ~ 0G 2A = 2pts

3. #21 Isac Lundestrom ~ 0G 2A = 2pts

4. #22 Kevin Shattenkirk ~ 1G 0A = 1pt

5. #14 Adam Henrique ~ 1G 0A = 1pt

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #38 Derek Grant ~ 10 PIM’s

2. #22 Kevin Shattenkirk ~ 2 PIM’s

3. #14 Adam Henrique ~ 2 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #36 John Gibson (1-0-0)  1.00GAA  .971%SP

2. #41 Anthony Stolarz N/A

* – Wild statistics are from last year.

Lines:

Anaheim Ducks

Henrique~Zegras~Rakell

Comtois~Getzlaf~Terry

McTavish~Lundestrom~Silfverberg

Deslauriers~Groulx~Grant

Lindholm~Drysdale

Fowler~Manson

Pateryn~Shattenkirk

Gibson

Stolarz

Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov~Eriksson Ek~Zuccarello

Greenway~Hartman~M. Foligno

R. Pitlick~F. Gaudreau~Fiala

Rask~Sturm~Bjugstad

Goligoski~Spurgeon

Brodin~Dumba

Kulikov~Merrill

Talbot

Kahkonen

The chill is starting to be felt in the air, the leaves have turned colors and are starting to litter the ground.  Those are signs that another NHL season is about to be upon us, and sorry if it sounds like we’re jinxing it can we hope its a ‘normal’ season unlike the previous two pandemic compressed seasons?

While fans can be back in NHL arenas, many including the Minnesota Wild are reporting the fact there is some hesitation to return right away as season ticket sales are down and that means there are plenty of available tickets out there if you want to go.  How many will be attendance at Honda Center is hard to say, although the Ducks rarely sell out unless its a playoff game.

The Wild have embraced a youth movement and have decided to tie its fortunes to Russian-wunderkind Kirill Kaprizov after giving him a 5-year, $45 million contract extension.  While fans were relieved to see him sign, its now up to him to show he’s the elite player he’s now being paid to be.  In a similar situation but not similar in treatment by the organization is Kevin Fiala.  Fiala got just a one-year ‘prove it’ sort of deal and with Wild General Manager Bill Guerin saying ‘its a big year for him’ it was odd to see him relegated to the 3rd line during the NHL pre-season.  He was playing on a line with fellow former Nashville Predators Frederic Gaudreau and Rem Pitlick.  It didn’t look too promising as players capable of helping boost Fiala’s offensive production.

Both Kaprizov will get some time together on Minnesota’s power play, but the Wild need both of them to be a factor on the scoresheet more often than not if the team is to have a chance.  Carrying the secondary scoring load will be Joel Eriksson Ek who will be centering the top line of Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello who was looking sharp in pre-season.  No other Wild forward seemed to have the same level of chemistry with Kaprizov as did the skilled Norwegian and they will expected to be Minnesota’s ‘go to’ offensive punch most nights.

Another line that looked decent during the pre-season for the Wild was the 2nd line combination of newly minted alternate captain Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway centered by Ryan Hartman.  This line brings size and grit but will it be as effective as they were a season ago when Eriksson Ek was anchoring that group?  Another player hoping to bring some grit, energy and speed to the Wild is its lone internal promotion in Brandon Duhaime.  The Parkland, Florida-native played the last two seasons with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Des Moines.  The Wild were so impressed by his work ethic and character they offered him his first one-way contract.  He’ll be playing on the 4th line along side Victor Rask and Nick Bjugstad or Nico Sturm.

On the blueline the Wild will see what life is like without Ryan Suter and Carson Soucy.  Grand Rapids, Minnesota-native Alex Goligoski will be replacing Suter as defensive partner of team captain Jared SpurgeonJonas Brodin and Matthew Dumba will log big minutes on the 2nd pairing and the team can ill-afford any sort of set back from any of its established veterans.  Dmitry Kulikov had a terrific training camp and will likely be joined by Jon Merrill to round out the 3rd pairing while Jordie Benn stays ready as the club’s 7th defenseman.

Between the pipes, Cam Talbot will be leaned upon to shoulder most of the team’s goaltending load.  Kaapo Kahkonen was pretty shaky in most of his starts during pre-season play but even he looked far more capable than Andrew Hammond (aka. the Hamburglar) who had his share of struggles in limited action.  I would be surprised to see the Wild start anyone other than Talbot for this opening game against the Ducks.  You can check out a season preview by KFAN’s Beyond the Pod starring Brandon Mileski and Pat Micheletti as they are joined by the Bardown BeautiesJessi Pierce and Minnesota Wild radio studio host Kevin Falness.

On the flip side, after a solid home-opening game against the Winnipeg Jets where the Ducks won 4-1 I think its all but certain Anaheim will give John Gibson the start.  The Ducks are a team embracing a youth movement and they are giving their young players opportunities to play a big role on their club right away this season.  Mason McTavish impressed in his 1st game, by being a pesky net front presence and worked his way up to the top line by the end of the game against the Jets.  Trevor Zegras is a talented and very skilled center whom the Ducks need to have a big season if they are to make a run towards the post-season.  Max Comtois was the team’s leading scorer a season ago, and Troy Terry has plenty of promise.

On the blueline, Jamie Drysdale brings skill and creativity with the puck that Anaheim hasn’t seen since they had since Scott NeidermayerHampus Lindholm and Josh Manson bring the grit and the snarl to make life miserable for opposing forwards.  Cam Fowler is the veteran presence that

The Ducks play a simple hard working style of game offensively and defensively.  Ducks bench boss Dallas Eakins has this team playing for each other and with plenty of younger players motivated to want to make a good impression that makes it dangerous for any club that may think its going to coast in to ‘the Pond’ for an easy victory.

So what are they keys to a Wild victory?

1. Keep it simple ~ Minnesota has re-shaped itself with some of its roster moves but with new faces in the lineup and players playing in elevated roles it would probably be best for the team to adopt a keep it simple approach.  If chemistry is going to develop, its going to happen on its own and it can’t be forced.  So even though Frederic Gaudreau did not do anything to ‘wow’ us during the pre-season, he needs to keep playing his game.  Plus, Anaheim is notorious for having ice that could be mistaken for your slush drink you bought from your local gas station so it usually doesn’t work too well if you try to be fancy with the puck because its not going to behave the way you’d expect.

2. Play tough near the crease ~ This goes for both ends of the ice, the Wild would be well served keeping the area in and around its crease free of Ducks skaters as much as possible.  And in the offensive zone they can help their cause by getting traffic near Gibson and pouncing on loose pucks.  Not that Ryan Suter was a physical defender, but we can expect Anaheim to want to test the Wild’s newly shaped Top 4 in close around Talbot to see if that’s a vulnerability.  If so, the Wild may have to consider playing Kulikov and Merrill more than perhaps they had originally planned.

3. Shoot the puck, early and often ~ The team had its bonding trip to Duluth, so they’ve already started to build some friendships.  However, that doesn’t mean deferring to teammates or trying to be the nice person and always look to pass first.  The team needs to pull the trigger often and continue to do so to put real pressure on the Ducks to both defend and for Gibson to have to fight to see it through traffic.  Like I mentioned before, this isn’t the type of ice surface to be counting on lots of fancy passing plays to work.  This is one where you simplify your game and funnel pucks towards the net and hope you can get some deflections and fortunate bounces to go your way.

What do you think will be important in order for the Wild to get an opening night victory in Anaheim?  Tell us on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!

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