Entering November 5th, the Wild were off to a 7-2-2 start that enabled them to stay right in the thick of things atop the Central Division. Their opponent that night was a very good Nashville Predators team, and Minnesota had a chance to win, making a declarative statement that they, too belonged in the discussion of who was the league's best team.
Things did not go well.
Not only did the Wild drop that game 3-2, they had a bigger loss: Their alternate captain and best player, Zach Parise was out with an MCL sprain.
The Wild did their best to hold down the fort, winning their first three without Parise in the lineup. Since them, the loss of their (then-)leading goal-scorer has caught up to them, as they've dropped 4 of their last 5 games. The team has fallen to 5th in the Central, where they hold the West's second Wild Card spot.
Parise's among the toughest players in the NHL, and a fast healer to boot, so it's no surprise that he's potentially going to return today, just 3 weeks after an injury that typically takes 4-6 weeks to recover. Parise participated in full practice yesterday, and is hopeful to return tonight.
There's no doubt that the Wild have missed Parise dearly, nor that he'll make an impact if healthy. The only question is whether he's truly healthy. We've seen Parise return from injury too soon before. Two years ago, he broke his foot in St. Louis and missed only one contest. However, Parise was largely ineffective upon his return, and eventually had to sit out to heal properly. A much different injury this time around, but one hopes Parise learned his lesson that it's him being able to contribute- not just play- that helps his team most.
If Parise indeed plays today, Minnesota could certainly use the help. The Winnipeg Jets have come to town, and while they've been in a free-fall (with a 2-7-1 record their last 10 games), they're still a tough team with some real talent. Blake Wheeler leads his team with 23 points in their first 23 games, but you may want to keep your eye on another Jets forward: Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers is one of the most exciting rookies of the year and is constantly using his speed to fire shots on net.
On the blueline, they're solid with Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers. Byfuglien is impossible not to notice, a player as notable for his
cheap shots HARD CLEAN HITS as he is for his offensive prowess. Trouba was passed over by the Wild in favor of Matt Dumba, so the two will always be compared to each other. The verdict as of now? They're both struggling, with Trouba having only 3 points in 23 games, and Dumba struggling to find consistency in his game.
In net, Winnipeg's top goalie prospect Connor Hellebuyck will make his NHL debut at the age of 22. The former U-Mass Lowell goalie has started strong in the AHL this year, posting a .927 Sv% in 10 games, after putting up a .921 mark in 58 AHL games last season. It appears he's for real, but is he going to be able to shake off the pressure of playing a tough team on the road in his debut?
The possible return of Parise will have an impact on the Wild's lines, most notably splitting up the struggling Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. Parise is slated to skate with Granlund and Charlie Coyle, who will move out from center to the wing. Erik Haula will center a line with former Buffalo teammates Pominville and red-hot Thomas Vanek.
Oh, and of course, Devan Dubnyk starts in net. Devan Dubnyk always starts in net.