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Iowa hosts Manitoba this weekend as Minnesota heads to Winnipeg & Calgary

The Iowa Wild (1-3-0, 2 pts) welcome another Central Division opponent to Wells Fargo Arena this weekend: the Manitoba Moose (2-2-0, 4 pts)

Justin Kloos (25) battles against Matt Luff (9) for a puck in Iowa’s 3-0 over Ontario last Friday
Iowa Wild/AHL

Fun fact if you didn’t already know: the Manitoba Moose and their parent club, the Winnipeg Jets, share the Bell MTS place as their home ice. If you’re hanging around Winnipeg, that means there’s rarely a weekend where there isn’t hockey being played.

While the Minnesota Wild will be heading to Winnipeg Friday night to take on the Jets, the Iowa Wild will be hosting the Moose for a back-to-back weekend match-up; their first of eight meetings between the two clubs this season. It will also be the first time we get to hear “O Canada” at Wells Fargo Arena.

How ‘bout it, eh?

It’s early on in the season, and just like the pre-game notes for Milwaukee, Ontario, and Rockford, there isn’t much to go on as far as “team leaders” in Manitoba’s four games played; all of them against Central Division opponents. Like Iowa, their season opener fell a bit flat against a Central opponent that dominated last season in a 5-2 loss to reigning AHL champs, Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings). But at the end of two weeks, Manitoba sits at .500 with a division leading sixteen goals for; seven in a 7-2 blowout win over Grand Rapids as well.

Both wins for Manitoba have come when Kyle Connor starts on the left side of Jack Roslovic on the top line and when they score on their power play line. They’ve had AHL-journeyman, Buddy Robinson to add experience as well as Chase De Leo on the right side for a deadly, youthful trio. Of the 16 goals scored by the Moose, Connor and Roslovic have had a hand in almost a third of them. However, Winnipeg is also having injury troubles to start the season.

With Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry being being placed on injured reserve, the Jets have called up Connor and Brendan Lemieux. It’s good news for Iowa, as both have combined for nine points to start the season (5G/4A).

What they’re still trying to figure out is their goalie situation. 100 game, NHL vet Michael Hutchinson and 2016-17 Manitoba number one, Eric Comrie, both have a win and a loss to start the season and will probably split the weekend series much like they did against Grand Rapids and Cleveland. The netminder puzzle in the Jets organization is only going to get weirder as Steve Mason was brought in to be the guy, but Connor Hellebuyck has all three wins for Winnipeg.

If you’re a fan of youth and speed, this is the team to watch. Of the players on the roster today, seventeen of them are twenty-five or younger.

Who to Watch

It’s not so much a particular player, but a particular potential line you should pay attention to. Jack Roslovic was the leading scorer for the Moose with 48 points (13G/35A) and is one pace to do it again with five points (2G/3A) in four games to start the season as a set-up centerman. To his right side last game was Chase De Leo, who was Manitoba’s fourth leading scorer last season with 32 points (14G/18A) and has two points (2A) to start 2017-18.

Both got together for assists on a Kyle Connor power play goal in a 4-1 win over Cleveland. De Leo’s other assist also came on the power play, but for a Michael Sgarbossa goal in that 7-2 win over Grand Rapids. Both are also from the States and are under 22-years-old to start the season (De Leo turns 22 next Wednesday). Head coach, Pascal Vincent, has a couple of weapons to work with, as De Leo is moving to the wing from his natural center position.

A surprise player has been Sami Niku, who is playing his first professional season in North America after being drafted by Winnipeg in 2015 (7th round, #198) and spending the last two seasons with JyP in Finland. Last year, left-handed defenseman put together 27 points (5G/22A) from the blueline for the club that made it to the Liiga semi-finals. He’s also been a featured member of Finland’s U20 sqaud.

So far this season, he’s also been featured on the power play and been the defender behind the Connor-Roslovic line. In four games, he has four points (4A), though he only has one primary assist. The Haapavesi, Finland-native has been paired consistently with right-handed Julian Melchiori, who has a goal and an assist to his credit to start the year.

Game Plan

It sounds like a broken record, but this might be the team where the power play will finally break through and get on the board to start the season. Right now, they’re 0-for-20 on the peepers, and are one of just three teams (Ontario and Bakersfield) who have a success rate of 0.0%. Through four games, the Moose have the worst penalty kill percentage in the Central Division at 80.0%.

Iowa will have to take advantage of these opportunities when they come. Despite the lowest kill rate, Manitoba is also one of the more disciplined teams in the division, giving up only fifteen power play opportunities (Chicago has given up the least with ten).

On the opposite side of the coin, the penalty kill will need to keep up their sound play if Iowa finds themselves playing a man down. Even with an 18.2% success rate, the Moose are tied with four other Central teams with four power play goals (Chicago leads the division with six). Roslovic, De Leo, or Niku have had a hand in all of them.

Relying on depth will come up once again. Iowa dressed just eleven forwards in their 7-4 loss to Rockford last Saturday. Dante Salituro and Evan Janssen were added from Rapid City last weekend and will be on the roster again. Friday night will be the season debut of Eden Prairie-native Kyle Rau, a former third rounder and brings with him some NHL experience from his time with Florida.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 CST at Wells Fargo Arena. It’s another $2 beer night.