After briefly stopping by the MTS Centre to fight cancer, the Winnipeg Jets (8-5-2) embark upon another four game road trip. This time they'll be traversing the Central Division, beginning with the Minnesota Wild (8-3-2).
Catch the game at 7:00 PM Central Time on FS-N, TSN3 and TSN 1290.
Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets
Patience. Use the Force. Think.: It's remarkable to see what a handful of injuries can do to a lineup. The Minnesota Wild head into this game without Zach Parise, Justin Fontaine, Tyler Graovac or Marco Scandella. The result? Charlie Coyle moves to 2nd line LW, Erik Haula ends up centring Thomas Vanek and Jordan Schroeder on the 3rd line, and a bottom defensive pairing of Prosser - Folin. Even against the Wild's last change, Winnipeg will have opportunities to take advantage of Minnesota's weakened depth. I'm obviously not suggesting that the Jets turtle, but neither must they win tonight's tilt in the 1st period. Mike Yeo will have to play the bottom half of his roster eventually.
It might also be nice if some of that patience paid off in the 2nd period, where in the past 5 games Winnipeg has scored only a single goal, versus 5 in the 1st and 4 in the 3rd.
The Assassination of Jason Pominville by the Coward Dustin Byfuglien: Okay, "assassination" might be a little over the top, but this sure wasn't a pleasant hit to watch:
The Wild haven't forgotten that moment from October 25th. Indeed, Minnesota reassigned skilled forward Christoph Bertschy to Iowa and recalled Kurtis Gabriel in his stead. To give a brief bit of background, the 6'4" forward, who's slated to play on Minnesota's 4th line tonight, had 16 points and 125 PIM in 67 games last season with Iowa. It will be his first NHL game, and I'm cheering for the kid in what will be an emotional debut for him, his mom and extended family. He also knows his role, so Winnipeg best be ready.
Now I'm not saying to shy away from the rough stuff. Indeed, if the Minnesota Wild are looking to turn this into a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Winnipeg is more than able to respond in kind. But let's not do anything stupid which will unnecessarily put the team on the penalty kill (see: the above Byfuglien hit, which happened with about two minutes left in a 5-4 game). At 21.7% and 8th in the league, the Minnesota Wild are surprisingly capable on the man advantage, and Saturday's tilt against Philadelphia should be reminder enough of the damage an opponent's power play can do.
Lose not heart nor hope: And of course, despite going 1-1-1, the past three games actually been solid efforts from a fancy stats perspective. At 5v5 score unadjusted, these have been the results as per Natural Stat Trick:
I feel pretty good about this team over 82 games if they're beating opponents in both shots and corsi by those margins. Minnesota should provide a stiffer challenge than any of the three teams above, but that would just make victory all the sweeter.
Keys to the Game: Minnesota Wild
"Granlund" is Finnish for "disappointing": Oh Mikael. Through 13 games he has 1 goal and 5 points, despite averaging 19:26 of ice time. He's on pace for 31 points on the season, and has a grand total of 0 in his last 5 outings. This after a mildly disappointing 2014-15, in which he put up 39 points in 68 games while skating beside noted bums Jason Pominville and Zach Parise.
Now to be sure, Granlund is not the only struggling Wild forward. He's not even the only struggling player on that line; Jason Pominville has 6 points and 0 goals in 13 games. Indeed, the hope from Minnesota's perspective is that Charlie Coyle might serve to jump-start the struggling duo. But the point remains that for those who are given much, much is expected in return, and Granlund isn't giving a whole lot at the moment.
Luckily for the Wild, Mikael Granlund is not Minnesota's last hope; there is another. The only problem is he's an 18-year-old playing in Sweden.
Avoid the track meet: There was far too much excitement in the last meeting between these two teams. After falling behind 5-1, the Wild stormed back to make it a close 5-4 finish. It's only natural that after such a porous affair, Mike Yeo and the Wild will look to tighten things up tonight.
But even putting last game's score aside, Minnesota might want to avoid any kind of end-to-end action given their injury situation.You're either going to tire out your top-end guys, thus necessitating more usage of your roster's bottom half, or it's going to be that bottom half which is caught out on the ice during said track meet.
Take advantage of having last change, slow the game down and try not to overexpose Prosser-Folin, Vanek-Haula-Schroeder or Porter-Carter-Gabriel. Goodness knows this might be one of those games where Ryan Suter sees close to if not over 30 minutes regardless.
Devan "The Answer?" Dubnyk: After signing him to a six year deal worth $26 million, one would hope not to see Devan Dubnyk and a question mark together, unless the question was "Vezina?" But after 12 games, and despite an 8-3-1 record, Dubnyk is the proud owner of a .916 even strength SV% and .907 overall SV%.
To give those perspective, the former ranks 32nd among goalies who have played 5+ games, while the latter ranks 33rd. Put another way, Dubnyk is hanging around Cam Ward territory. Cam Ward may be a lovely human being, but his save percentages are not desirable company.
The good news if you're a Wild fan might be that Dubnyk is coming off a 31 save shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They can only hope it won't prove the exception to the norm. Long story short: The team has been winning in spite of their goaltending, not because of it, and Dubnyk needs to be better.
Player to Boo Mercilessly
Jason Zucker. With Zach Parise injured, he's arguably Minnesota's most dangerous player in the lineup, not to mention what he did to Winnipeg last game:
Yeah, boo him mercilessly.
It will be a predictably tighter affair than their last meeting, with the Jets narrowly losing the fancy stats battle. Despite Jason Pominville getting his first of the season, Minnesota's offense dries up, while Devan Dubnyk is subpar yet again with three goals against. Speaking of three, all three of Winnipeg's defensive pairings put in a solid performance, and Drew Stafford scores the game winner in the 2nd period.
Winnipeg wins 3-1. #GoJetsGo. Thanks for reading!