2022 NHL Winter Classic Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues 1/1/22 @ 6:00PM CST at Target Field

Minnesota Wild (19-9-2)  40pts  2nd in the Central

3.63 Goals For Per Game (2nd in the NHL)

3.00 Goals Against Per Game (19th in the NHL)

17.5% Power Play (22nd in the NHL)

81.1% Penalty Kill (12th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 12G 24A = 36pts

2. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 14G 12A = 26pts

3. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 8G 16A = 24pts

4. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 13G 7A = 20pts

5. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 6G 14A = 20pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 50 PIM’s

2. #21 Brandon Duhaime ~ 44 PIM’s

3. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 29 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #33 Cam Talbot (15-7-1)  2.83GAA  .914%SP

2. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen (4-2-1)  2.75GAA  .905%SP

 

Vs.

 

St. Louis Blues (18-9-5)  41pts  1st in the Central

3.38 Goals For Per Game (6th in the NHL)

2.66 Goals Against Per Game (9th in the NHL)

29.4% Power Play (3rd in the NHL)

83.1% Penalty Kill (7th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #91 Vladimir Tarasenko ~ 13G 19A = 32pts

2. #25 Jordan Kyrou ~ 10G 18A = 28pts

3. #18 Robert Thomas ~ 3G 20A = 23pts

4. #57 David Perron ~ 7G 12A = 19pts

5. #90 Ryan O’Reilly ~ 5G 13A = 18pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #72 Justin Faulk ~ 23 PIM’s

2. #47 Torey Krug ~ 20 PIM’s

3. #89 Pavel Buchnevich ~ 18 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #50 Jordan Binnington (9-6-3)  2.83GAA  .911%SP  1SO

2. #39 Charlie Lindgren (5-0-0)  1.22GAA  .958%SP

Lines:

St. Louis Blues

Saad~O’Reilly~Perron

Kyrou~Thomas~Tarasenko

L.Brown~Bozak~Kostin

Walker~Toropchenko~Walman

Mikkola~Parayko

Krug~Faulk

Scandella~Perunovich

Binnington

Lindgren

Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov~Hartman~Zuccarello

Fiala~F.Gaudreau~M.Foligno

Greenway~Sturm~Duhaime

Bjugstad~V.Rask / Dewar~R.Pitlick

Brodin?~Dumba

Merrill~Goligoski

Jo.Benn~Kulikov

Talbot

Kahkonen

We’re finally here.  The Minnesota Wild finally get their chance as the host of the 2022 NHL Winter Classic against the St. Louis Blues.  For Wild owner Craig Leipold, the road to the Winter Classic has been likely the result of extensive lobbying with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the league to let Minnesota have the chance to host this annual NHL spectacle.  It has been a long and winding road, but I’m sure the success of Minnesota hosting the 2016 Stadium Series game didn’t hurt.

The pandemic pushed the event back a year, and this year’s resurgence probably brought this event close to another postponement.  However the show must go on.  That seemed to be the underlying message in all of the postponements of other games besides this one as the league hit ‘pause’ on the 2021-22 NHL season with no games through the Christmas holiday.  Most of the holiday treats have been consumed, the gifts have been opened (possibly returned) and gift cards used in these last few days, which hopefully helped put the Minnesota Wild fan base as at ease.

Afterall, the Minnesota Wild are riding a 4-game losing streak, and are without their team captain Jared Spurgeon to a lower body injury and its best center in Joel Eriksson Ek to an upper body injury that will keep both out of the lineup for a long while.  The team was humbled 7-4 against 6th place Dallas in its last game which it played 11 days ago on Dec. 20th.  And as this is a divisional game against a team leading by just a single point in the standings so the Wild can ill-afford to get caught up in the spectacle and ignore just how important this game really is.

Injuries to Spurgeon and Eriksson Ek are going to be a challenge for the Minnesota Wild to deal with, but the St. Louis Blues certainly have been managing their own spate of injuries and players tagged under Covid-19 protocols.  Forwards Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, Dakota Joshua and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo are currently under the protocol.  Check out the injury / Covid-19 list from TSN, the Minnesota Wild shouldn’t complain about their injury situation at all.  St. Louis also could be without Pavel Buchnevich due to illness.

Shortly after Christmas, the Wild got news that defenseman Jonas Brodin will be out due to Covid protocols.  Especially with the team being without Spurgeon, the additional loss of Brodin to the lineup really puts the Wild in a bind.  Not only does Brodin play provide trusted, defensively responsible play in his own zone but I think he’s been very important in supporting the Wild offensively as well.  Yet there is word from the Athletic‘s Michael Russo that Brodin may be available for the game.  If Brodin isn’t able to play, it will be interesting to see how Wild head coach Dean Evason handles that situation.

So with all of the ominous talk about injuries behind us, let’s talk about the game itself what we at Crease And Assist: A Legally Compliant Minnesota Hockey Blog expect to see.

As bad as the Minnesota Wild have been playing through their last 4 games, the team is still scoring at a prolific rate.  Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala are finding the back of the net more frequently and that helps take some pressure off of the team’s secondary scoring.  Ryan Hartman and Marcus Foligno have been giving the Wild more goal scoring than expected but its important for them to keep lighting the lamp.  Minnesota has been mostly a score-by-committee club to this point this season.  It would be nice to see Rem Pitlick or Nico Sturm to re-emerge a bit offensively.

With the injury to the team’s best center, Joel Eriksson Ek, many fans have been asking on social media if now is the time to call up Marco Rossi from Iowa.  Rossi is leading the Iowa Wild in points and in his most recent game he only added more fuel to that fire with an assist and a game tying goal and a game-winning penalty shot goal in a dramatic overtime win against the Colorado Eagles.

I have watched him play in most of his games with Iowa this season and I would be hesitant to call him up.  A lot of his current production with Iowa has come on the power play.  At even strength he’s been adequate and steadily improving but he’s not dominating at the AHL level.  I think it would be a very difficult adjustment for him to make.  I am sure he’d want the opportunity and would do the best that he can.  The team did call up Connor Dewar from Iowa, so it would seem that Wild fans are going to have to wait a little longer for Rossi’s NHL debut.

However, if we’re really looking for a long-term (at least for as long as Eriksson Ek is out due to his injury) replacement I do not feel he is ready for that kind of role and responsibility.  He might be able to help as a center to use on the power play where he would benefit from a little more time and space on the ice, but that is the one area where I’d envision him looking comfortable.  At even strength I think he’d have a hard time adjusting to the increased speed of play and the physical parts of the game.

On defense, the Wild will be leaning heavily on the top two pairings of Matthew Dumba, Alex Goligoski, Jon Merrill and AHL call up Calen Addison.  Dumba and Goligoski will be critical to the Wild being efficient in exiting their own zone against St. Louis’ forecheck.  Addison could also be helpful in this regard as he’s shown himself to be a capable puck mover with Iowa and his few limited chances with Minnesota.

Another player who will likely see his role elevated is Dmitry Kulikov.  Kulikov has been great as a 3rd pairing defenseman and has shown the ability to jump in the play offensively.  Especially if the Wild coaching staff do not feel Addison is ready for that kind of elevated role and responsibility I could see the team using a veteran like Kulikov in that capacity.

Even though he looked a little shaky in his last outing, I would expect the Wild to give Cam Talbot the start against the Blues.  The Blues will no doubt give Jordan Binnington the opportunity to start in such an important game, despite the fact that if St. Louis head coach Craig Berube were to give Lakeville, Minnesota-native Charlie Lindgren a chance it would make for a great story.

Another advantage the Blues have is the fact they’ve played far more recently than Minnesota has.  St. Louis is likely feeling rather confident after a 4-2 win against Edmonton on Wednesday night.  The Wild haven’t had a game in over a week.  While the Wild have had lots of time to practice and watch plenty of film on St. Louis it seems likely that Minnesota could look a bit rusty out there.

So let’s switch gears a bit.  Are you going to the game?  I thought it might be useful to give you some advice for attending a cold, outdoor game like this after my experiences at Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 and the Stadium Series game in 2016.  Here are some things you can do to make that experience more enjoyable and tolerable.

  1. Dress in layers, at least one more layer than you’d normally use if you were shoveling your driveway or sidewalk.  For example, if you normally wear a T-shirt under your jersey, wear two T-shirts under the jersey instead.  If you want to have your team colors showing, wear them over your normal jacket if you can. If you plan on sitting during the game, bringing a blanket is a good idea (although I’m not sure if security will let you do so).
  2. Hats – Wear something that preferably covers the ears.  Stocking caps are probably the best bet, bomber hats a good choice too.  I wore a tweed fedora to the 2014 Hockey Day Minnesota game at the Handke Pit and that kept me pretty warm too.  But a cold weather hat is a must.
  3. For your hands, I’d wear a lighter pair of fleece gloves and then a pair of leather chopper mittens over them both.
  4. For your feet, wear at least two pairs of socks; one normal pair and then a heavier pair over the top of that.  Even though it might feel a bit cumbersome, I’d recommend wearing boots because you won’t know how well they’ve managed to get rid of the snow along the walk to the stadium or inside until you’re there.  Boots will also accommodate the extra sock layers better than your normal shoes probably would.
  5. Long underwear plus your normal underwear is also a good idea.
  6. Wear a mask, not only is it prudent in our current Covid environment but having something that covers your nose and mouth will help keep you warmer as well and you will appreciate not having the cold wind hit you in the face (as much).  Not only that, it will help protect you and those around you from getting infected since you will be in fairly close proximity of each other for longer than 15 minutes.
  7. Don’t rush, give yourself plenty of time to go to the game, the security etc and find your seats.  This way, as you move in your extra layers you shouldn’t sweat as much and that should help you stay warmer too.  Otherwise, if you have to hustle to the game and get sweaty doing so that sweat will cool and offset the advantages your layering has given you.

Since I’d guess a lot of folks will be standing most of the game, you will have a chance to move your legs and feet a bit which will help you keep warm.

So back to the game, what will be the keys to a Wild victory?

  1. Keep it simple – Even with the temperatures to be below freezing the ice will still be poor in comparison to normal NHL ice.  The Wild would be well-served to simplify their game and reduce the amount of extra passes.  Also, with the fact they’ve played so few games in the last two weeks I think keeping things simple will be better for a club who will probably look a little rusty having not played at game speed in over a week.
  2. Be tough in and around the crease – The Blues are at their best when they get bodies near the crease.  The Wild must have the ‘want to’ to work their way in close in the offensive zone and also show some snarl to keep the Blues out of that area in their own end of the ice.  Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Nico Sturm and other Wild forwards need to participate in this effort, not just the defensemen.  Whichever team wins this game-long battle, will probably be the one that wins the game.
  3. Win the crowd – I am going to guess that he majority of fans at this game will be rooting for the Minnesota Wild.  If the Wild want to get some inspiration from the crowd, they need to find a way to get them into the game.  It might be a big hit, a fight but goals always do the trick as well.  Yet if the Wild can make it noisy (in a good way) that should help keep the energy and focus level high.  The Wild should be motivated to take back the top spot in the Central division, they might as well take advantage of large home crowd since they have it.

What do you think will be important for the Minnesota Wild in order to earn a victory over the Blues?  Let us know on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!