Game Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Toronto Maple Leafs 2/24/22 @ 6:00PM CST at Air Canada Centre

Minnesota Wild (31-14-3)  65pts  3rd in the Central

3.79 Goals For Per Game (3rd in the NHL)

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

20.8% Power Play (14th in the NHL)

79.0% Penalty Kill (19th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 23G 29A = 62pts

2. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 17G 35A = 52pts

3. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 17G 25A = 42pts

4. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 19G 18A = 37pts

5. #14 Joel Eriksson Ek ~ 16G 12A = 28pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 87 PIMs

2. #21 Brandon Duhaime ~ 63 PIMs

3. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 52 PIMs

Top Goaltenders:

1. #33 Cam Talbot ~ (19-11-1)   2.94GAA   .910SV%   1SO

2. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen ~ (12-3-2)   2.56GAA   .921SV%

 

Vs.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs (32-14-4)  68pts  3rd in the Atlantic

3.54 Goals For Per Game (4th in the NHL)

2.80 Goals Against Per Game (12th in the NHL)

30.4% Power Play (1st in the NHL)

84.3% Penalty Kill (6th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #34 Auston Matthews ~ 34G 28A = 62pts

2. #88 William Nylander ~ 19G 28A = 47pts

3. #91 John Tavares ~ 17G 30A = 47pts

4. #16 Mitchell Marner ~ 17G 29A = 46pts

5. #44 Morgan Reilly ~ 6G 37A = 43pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #24 Wayne Simmonds ~ 47 PIMs

2. #58 Michael Bunting ~ 30 PIMs

3. #44 Morgan Reilly ~ 28 PIMs

Top Goaltenders:

1. #36 Jack Campbell ~ (23-8-4)   2.46GAA   .920SV%   4SO

2. #35 Petr Mrazek ~ (6-4-0)   3.16GAA   .890SV%

Lines:

Toronto Maple Leafs

Bunting~Matthews~Marner

Kerfoot~Tavares~W.Nylander

Mikheyev~Kampf~Kase

Engvall~Spezza~Simmonds

Mo.Reilly~Brodie

Muzzin~Sandin

Dermott~Holl

Campbell

Mrazek

Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello

Fiala-Gaudreau-Boldy

Greenway-Eriksson Ek-Foligno

Dewar-Sturm-Dumaime

Goligoski-Spurgeon

Brodin-Kulikov

Merrill-Addison

Talbot

Kahkonen

***Disclaimer: Due to current world events, this is not the normal game preview. If you don’t want to read some mild political writing, move along, You have been warned.***

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time focusing on much this morning. With the happenings in Eastern Europe, it feels almost frivolous to focus on a hockey game. In fact, what is happening in Ukraine right now, kind of reminds me of that day back in October 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. But let’s be honest, there’s a big difference between the two events, one positive and one a harbinger of war. Also, there’s a huge difference between Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin. And that is why I’m having a much harder time writing this today.

Both the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer (and other hockey and soccer leagues around the world) are European heavy. While we view the players as professional athletes, we often forget they’re regular people with concerns about their families. Looking at the Wild’s roster, we definitely have a mix of players, who will have concerns about what is happening back home. While we have two Russian players in Kirill Kaprizov and Dmitry Kulikov, I think it’s the other European players who will have a lot on their minds. In particular, there will be worry for players from Sweden and Finland: Joel Eriksson Ek, Jonas Brodin, and Kappo Kahkonen. Heck, even our players from Norway, Mats Zuccarello and Germany, Nico Sturm will have their minds possibly thousands of miles away.

And the Toronto Maple Leafs roster is in pretty much the same boat. However, one major difference, is that Toronto has players that are from countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union. Like Ukraine, many of these former Soviet states are thinking “are we next?” These players would be from the Czech Republic, David Kampf, Ondrej Kase, and Petr Mrazek. They even have a player in the system from Latvia, Kristians Rubins, that will be thinking of home, because the Baltics have always been concerned about pressure from Moscow. Then you mix in Toronto’s Swedish players, Pierre Engvall, Timothy Liljergren, and Rasmus Sandin with Russian players Ilya Mikheyev and Ilya Lyubushkin, I’m positive there were many calls home this morning.

However, hockey can certainly prove as a distraction in times like these. For both players and fans. While it’s obvious that many players on many teams in the league will be thinking of friends and family back home, the same can be said about fans. There are many times those of us in North America forget that we are immigrant nations. Not all of us can trace our family history back to the Mayflower. Some of us have more recent immigrant stories, and some of those are to Eastern Europe. Through my own research, I have discovered that my German ancestors were essentially refugees who were forced to flee what was then known as Prussia. And with that in mind, Western Europe and North America will see a new surge or refugees. So this is why it feels like it’s frivolous to focus on a game.

But I suppose we do need to speak about the game at hand a bit. I don’t think I need to remind any of you how frustrating it was to watch the result in Ottawa Tuesday night. If you remember, I stressed how important it was to pad the stats with points from Eastern Conference matchups. However, it seems like the team forgot about that. I don’t know about you, but we definitely felt the absence of Zuccarello. While his absence definitely effected his usual linemates, but you could almost see the domino effect on the other teams. When one player is out, it generally effects the other lines as well due to line shuffling. But we’ve seen this team overcome other missing players before, so they should be able to adjust better than they did against the Senators.

And looking at Toronto’s stats, it’s going to be difficult for Minnesota to grab even one point let alone the much desired two. Just like Minnesota, Toronto can score. In fact, the Maple Leafs are fourth in the league when it comes to Goals for Per Game, just one spot behind Minnesota. They’re also having some issues preventing goals scored. However, I would take their 12th place Goals Against Per Game over Minnesota’s 20th place. So while Toronto isn’t a true shut down team, they’re doing better than the Wild. And that just might be the key to this game.

And the other key tonight, is to avoid the special teams aspect. Toronto boasts the best power play in the league and the 6th best penalty kill. I don’t know about you, but neither Minnesota’s power play nor penalty kill are really going to be able to combat that. But Minnesota can still score on the power play, and in some games even more than once. However with the lack of Zuccarello, that will be much harder to accomplish. If the Wild can figure out a way to overcome, both physically and mentally, that absence they stand a good chance. It is entirely up to the Wild, but whether or not they can do that is another thing,

So while the world has gone to shambles (again), please take the time to enjoy the game. Yet don’t be surprised if we see distracted players on both teams. And in all honesty, I don’t think I’ll be as frustrated if that happens tonight in comparison to Tuesday night. Also, be kind to each other during these uncertain times.