Minnesota Wild (2-0-0) 4pts 2nd in the Central
2.50 Goals For Per Game (20th in the NHL)
1.50 Goals Against Per Game (5th in the NHL)
16.7% Power Play (21st in the NHL)
75% Penalty Kill (20th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 1G 1A = 2pts
2. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 1G 1A = 2pts
3. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 0G 2A = 2pts
4. #49 Victor Rask ~ 1G 0A = 1pt
5. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 1G 0A = 1pt
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 19 PIM’s
2. #24 Matthew Dumba ~ 4 PIM’s
3. #4 Jon Merrill ~ 2 PIM’s
1. #33 Cam Talbot (2-0) 1.51GAA .950%SP
2. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen N/A
Winnipeg Jets (0-2-0) 0pts 8th in the Central
2.00 Goals For Per Game (31st in the NHL)
4.00 Goals Against Per Game (27th in the NHL)
0% Power Play (31st in the NHL)
60% Penalty Kill (28th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Andrew Copp ~ 1G 0A = 1pt
2. #81 Kyle Connor ~ 1G 0A = 1pt
3. #12 Jansen Harkins ~ 1G 0A = 1pt
4. #80 Pierre-Luc Dubois ~ 1G 0A = 1pt
5. #26 Blake Wheeler ~ 0G 1A = 1pt
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #4 Neal Pionk ~ 6 PIM’s
2. #64 Logan Stanley ~ 5 PIM’s
3. #26 Blake Wheeler ~ 4 PIM’s
1. #37 Connor Hellebuyck (0-2) 4.10%SP .849%SP
2. #1 Eric Comrie N/A
One could have felt they were having a deja vu moment during the opening weekend of NHL hockey that nothing had changed from a season ago when clubs were placed into different divisions because of the pandemic. The Wild played back-to-back games against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. Perhaps that familiarity paid off as the team got off to a 2-0 start.
Minnesota will now face a team outside of last year’s West Division in regular season action for the first time in a year when the Winnipeg Jets come to St. Paul for their home opener. The team looked considerably more comfortable and poised in Saturday’s game against the Kings than they did against the Ducks on Friday night.
This was perhaps most evident in the play of the team’s “3rd” line of Victor Rask, Frederic Gaudreau and Kevin Fiala. Fiala seemed to be almost alone on that line on Friday, but on Saturday both Rask and especially Gaudreau were more involved in races for loose pucks as well as sending shots on goal. Both Rask and Gaudreau ended up with goals in Minnesota’s 3-2 victory over the Kings.
Another line that seemed to exhibit improved chemistry and cohesion was the 4th line of Brandon Duhaime, Nico Sturm and Nick Bjugstad. Duhaime has provided speed and tenacity and that seems to be encouraging his linemates to play with some of that same youthful energy as they throw their bodies around on the forecheck making life miserable for opposing defenseman. If this line can bring energy like they did Saturday night, that takes some pressure off of the line of Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman and Marcus Foligno to set the physical tone of each game. Strong play from the 4th line encourages Wild Head Coach Dean Evason to roll 4 lines and the result is you get better effort from the whole club.
On the back end, team captain Jared Spurgeon has looked good on a paring with Alex Goligoski. Meanwhile, Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill have been a solid 3rd pairing so far. Kulikov has shown the ability to provide physicality while still being a reasonable puck mover and a willingness to shoot the puck. Jonas Brodin, arguably the team’s most complete defenseman plays with poise and has been solid while his defensive partner and best friend Matthew Dumba has continued to be frustratingly erratic.
Cam Talbot has been excellent so far (knock on wood), and I would be surprised if he doesn’t start tonight against the Jets. His movement post-to-post and rebound control have been terrific. Since the Wild have a 3-day break after tonight’s game I think Kaapo Kahkonen will with another game from the team’s bench until perhaps having his first start some time this weekend either against Anaheim (Saturday) or Nashville (Sunday).
The Jets will probably give Connor Hellebuyck the start, even though he has struggled through his first two starts of the season. I watched the Jets’ game against the Seattle Kraken and he seemed to be caught off guard at times. Yet I could also see Jets’ bench boss Paul Maurice give Eric Comrie a shot with the hope it ignites some more focus in his team.
The Jets’ for whatever reason look like a slower team in these first two games. They certainly have missed having Mark Scheifele in the lineup who was serving the last few games of a league-suspension for a dangerous high hit he gave in the 2021 NHL playoffs to Montreal’s Jake Evans. His return will certainly help give the team a boost speed-wise and in terms of offense which has also looked pretty stale through their first two Scheifele-less games this season.
Former Breck and Minnesota Golden Gophers star Blake Wheeler tries to lead a potent top six of Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers. The 35-year old Wheeler is in the twilight of his career but he’s typically enjoyed success against the Wild. Pierre-Luc Dubois, wearing #80 in honor of good friend and former Columbus Blue Jackets’ teammate Matiss Kivlenieks’ whose tragic death due to a fireworks accident this summer. Dubois is still a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde player where he can wow you one moment and then leave you wondering why he’s considered an elite NHL center. Currently he’s centering the Jets’ 2nd line.
On the blueline, the Jets are led by former Hermantown and Minnesota-Duluth star Neal Pionk who was tops among Winnipeg defenseman in points a season ago. Josh Morrissey is now paired with former St. Cloud Cathedral and Minnesota Golden Gophers’ defenseman Nate Schmidt as Winnipeg hopes to get more offensive punch from its defensive corps. The gritty Brendan Dillon and hulking (6’7″) Logan Stanley round out the Jets’ blueline.
So what are the keys to a Wild victory?
1. Stick with keeping it simple ~ The Minnesota Wild have a tendency to try to be a bit more fancy with the puck at home, and they will be especially tempted to do so in front of a sold-out arena for the first time in two seasons. At times, this fancy approach has them opting for ‘one more pass’ all too often and opportunities to shoot the puck end up being squandered. If Hellebuyck is in net, they will want to pepper him with shots and hopefully continue to have him 2nd guess himself. The Wild have to remember the crowd will cheer goals they score regardless if they are of the fancy variety or are examples of simplicity. Minnesota was at its best this last weekend because it was getting near the net and pouncing on loose pucks near the paint.
2. Play tough near the crease ~ In the past, the Jets have been team that usually tried to assert its physical dominance over the Wild. In the year since the last time the two clubs played, the Wild have added size and more sandpaper to its lineup. The Wild don’t have to try to beat up the Jets, but they can play with more snarl near their own crease as well as showing more determination near the Jets’ cage as well. No flybys, just hard work and showing more ‘want to’ in those battles near the net no matter what side of the ice it may be.
3. Start strong, finish strong ~ In games against the Jets in the past, the Wild often found themselves either giving up a goal early in the period or late in the period. Those are momentum killers. The Wild weathered similar pressure this weekend and to their credit they didn’t let that become too big of an issue. Starting games the right way and finishing off period’s without a let down are the mark of good teams. Tonight should be a good test if they can keep up their strong start to the season by finishing with another victory this evening!
What do you think will be important for the Wild to do in order to secure a victory over the Jets? Let us know on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!