Last night the Minnesota Wild went toe-to-toe with one of the best offenses in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres, in their own arena and matched them right up until an overtime heartbreaker ended it. Tonight they are back at the Xcel Energy Center and will face the St. Louis Blues for the second time in just eight days, with the last meeting on New Year’s Eve being a decisive 5-2 win for the Wild. The Blues are also on the second night of a back-to-back as they dropped a close one to the Montreal Canadiens last night.
Since their last meeting, the Blues have gone 2-1-0 with their wins coming against two teams near the top of the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils. The Wild could be in for an interesting night as their lines are in flux with several key players ill or out for personal reasons.
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Filip Gustavsson is questionable tonight after having to exit the Jan. 4 game against the Tampa Bay Lighting, Marc-Andre Fleury “has been dealing with a deep personal matter” according to Michael Russo of The Athletic and is expected to be out until at least Jan. 10. Finally, as reported by Joe Smith of The Athletic “[Mats] Zuccarello won’t play the next two games but [is] expected on [the] New York Trip”.
Wild Projected Lineup
Kirill Kaprizov – Sam Steel – Matt Boldy
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Brandon Duhaime – Frederick Gaudreau – Ryan Hartman
Mason Shaw – Connor Dewar – Ryan Reeves
Jake Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill – Calen Addison
Zane McIntyre – Filip Gustavsson
Blues Projected Lineup
Pavel Buchnevich – Robert Thomas – Jordan Kyrou
Brandon Saad – Brayden Schenn – Ivan Barbashev
Jake Neighbours – Noel Acciari – Josh Leivo
Alexei Torpchenko – Nikita Alexandrov – Tyler Pitlick
Nikko Mikkola – Colton Parayko
Calle Rosen – Justin Faulk
Steven Santini – Robert Bortuzzo
Thomas Greiss – Jordan Binnington
3 Keys to the Game
Digging into the Goaltending Depth
There is more than a small chance that Zane McIntyre will get his first start in an NHL game since the 2016-17 season when he played in eight games with the Boston Bruins. While he only produced a paltry .858 save percentage (SV%) and 3.97 goals-against average (GAA) in those games, he has since gone on to have an up-and-down career in the American Hockey League (AHL) including a fantastic 2021-22 season that saw him play 37 games with the Iowa Wild managing a .920 SV% and 2.45 GAA.
A look at McIntyre in the NHL could provide the Wild with some critical information on their goaltending depth heading into the second half of the 2022-23 season. With both Fleury and Gustavsson playing some elite-level hockey there have been no worries in the net. With both of them unavailable for various reasons it is a stark reminder of how fast third and fourth-string players can be forced into action. If something was to happen to McIntyre, the Wild would be forced to call upon one of their two rookie netminders: Hunter Jones (22 years old) or Jesper Wallstedt (20 years old).
Defense Comes Back from Holiday
Fleury is a top-tier goaltender and no matter what happens during the course of a game, he always feels like he should have made more saves. There is a reason that the veteran is now in sole possession of the fifth spot for most games started by a goaltender in the NHL with 964. Foligno spoke about Fleury after their 6-5 OT loss last night:
“He takes a lot of losses to heart, but it’s definitely not on him,” Foligno said. “I mean, he made some unbelievable saves in the third, the last six minutes a lot of highlight-reel saves. We just need to be better and stronger in our slot.”
From “Wild won’t let Marc-Andre Fleury take blame for loss as he takes temporary leave” – Michael Russo – The Athletic – 1/8/23
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Fleury ended the night with a 5.57 GAA and .838 SV% but as Foligno noted, the real problem in the game was the absence of the Wild’s typically strong defensive play. They have become known around the NHL for being a strong team that forces play to the outside and limits shots from high-danger areas, allowing their goalies to be in a great position to make an easy save. They will need to get back to that style of play tonight if they plan on continuing a push for the top of the Central Division.
Central Division Rivalries for Motivation
There should be no better motivation for the Wild than facing down the team that removed them from last season’s playoffs. Their divisional rivalry has always been intense and more often than not has gone in the Blues’ favor, but the Blues have had a rough start to their season and the Wild need to take advantage. Currently in third place in the Central with 47 points, a win tonight would put them just three points back of the top of the division, while also increasing their lead over the fourth-place Avalanche to six points.
Tonight’s matchup can be found on Bally Sports North and KFan 100.3FM beginning at 6:00 CT.
*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, Wild and Blues lines are from their last respective games on Jan. 7.
Being from the east coast of Canada, I’ve grown up immersed in hockey since before I was old enough to walk. The Minnesota Wild joined the league right as I was trying to find a favourite team and I have been committed to them ever since. I like to take breaks from my day job of writing reports as a Scientist by writing articles about my hockey passion. Follow me on twitter @tysmck15 for my latest.