MINNESOTA WILD VS NEW YORK ISLANDERS
7:00PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
TV: Fox Sports-North
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: Fox Sports Go app
Well, Tuesday wasn’t quite the opening to this six-game homestand that we hoped to see for the Minnesota Wild, who fell 1-0 in a dud of a contest against the Canucks. There just isn’t a better word to describe that game, other than “dud.” It was boring, it was defensive, and even despite facing a team that had been on the road for more than a week, Minnesota didn’t seem to have any jump on Vancouver and couldn’t find the back of the net behind a typically leaky Anders Nilsson.
BUT—and there’s always a “but” when you stick with the eternally optimistic JDP (I’m a Minnesotan after all)—the Wild did show a strong defensive structure to its game for the first time this season. Minnesota clogged the neutral zone well and protected Devan Dubnyk, as he unsurprisingly had arguably his best game of the year. But the Wild forgot to do anything offensively and let the game get to a point where it was a roll of the dice as to who would end up scoring a goal to get the win. We know this team can score, so if its goaltenders and defense can band together to limit the opposition to two or fewer goals per game, as it has in the last two, we’re going to start seeing wins pile up at some point… We just have to!
The road doesn’t necessarily get easier here for Minnesota, as it faces an Islanders team tonight that’s playing good hockey and always seems to perform well in Minnesota. It’s a great night to break out your old Cal Clutterbuck sweater.
It’s still not time to freak out about this team, because despite facing intense adversity in the early going, we’re seeing positive signs in every game. But the Wild definitely needs to start racking up some points soon, and a long homestand like this represents one of those times in the season where the guys just have to get it done and get themselves in a rhythm.
Zack Mitchell was recalled as the fill-in for this one.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
It feels like it’s been a while since the Islanders were the better team in the Big Apple, but with the Rangers off to an abysmal start and Alain Vigneault reportedly on the hotseat, the Icelanders are definitely the toast of New York’s hockey community in the early stages of this season. Ever since Doug Weight took over from the ousted Chris Capuano last season, the team formerly based on Long Island has been significantly more formidable than in recent history, putting together a 29-15-5 record so far under their new benchboss.
In typical Islanders fashion, they made some not-so-shrewd moves over the offseason, sending their ’17 first-round pick, ’19 second-round pick, Jake Bischoff, and Mikhail Grabovski to Vegas to get the Knights to take JF Berube in the Expansion Draft. Many Islanders fans nearly went bald from scratching their heads after that decision, but Garth Snow redeemed himself in the days that followed, plucking star forward Jordan Eberle from Edmonton by flipping Ryan Strome, and finally moving on from Travis Hamonic after years of rumors. In the Hamonic deal, the Islanders recovered the draft picks, adding back in a 2018 first rounder from the Flames. Despite those shrewder transactions, after years of bizarre decisions, there were still quite a few Brooklynites and Long Islanders hoping that Snow would accidentally trade himself.
John Tavares is in his contract year with New York, and already there has been a ton of talk about whether he will re-sign with the team after this season. There is no doubt he wants to win in this league, and after having proven himself as a bona fide all-world superstar, a successful season and a resolution to the team’s confusing arena situation (the Islanders desperately want to get out of Barclay’s Center) will absolutely have an impact on whether Tavares stays or goes. His flirtation with free agency will be the top storyline of the summer, should he opt not to re-sign before then.
The Islanders have gotten off to a very good start to this season, and they have a few players scoring goals at a rapid pace. Two of us, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, each have five goals, while Tavares has six, after notching a hat trick against the Arizona Lowly Coyotes on Tuesday. Eberle, meanwhile, has six assists, but has yet to record his first marker in an Islanders sweater. New York has won three games in a row coming into tonight’s matchup with the Wild.
Luke Kunin is playing himself into mainstay territory with the Wild. Bruce Boudreau told the media that he was considering using Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek in the closing minutes Tuesday, to “send a message” to the vets. This is after Kunin, a 19-year-old with four games of NHL experience, was used in crucial situations with the game on the line in Calgary on Saturday. He was kept with the big club for practice Monday as well, rather than being sent down to Iowa for no good reason other than to save cap space. The decision to keep him in St. Paul is both a reward to the young forward for his strong play, and also an indicator that he’s becoming a permanent fixture on the NHL roster.
When Kunin was first called up after the Wild got hit with the plague—or whatever it was that caused the entire team to get hurt at the same time—I wrote that this was an opportunity for the former Badger to seize a position on the team and never let it go. If he keeps playing with this confidence and starts chipping in some goals, there will be some extremely tough decisions to make for the Wild brass whenever players like Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle return to action.
It wasn’t surprising that Mikael Granlund’s return to the lineup spelled the end of Chris Stewart’s red hot streak. Granlund recouped his position on the wing next to Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker, which moved Stewart down the lineup and away from Zucker, who had been setting him up nicely. Tyler Ennis had a really good game for Minnesota on Tuesday, so we’ll see a bit of a shakeup this evening.
NO—Coyle, Niederreiter, Zach Parise (obvi). Niederreiter did skate with the team this morning for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain on October 12th.
Shane Prince is out long-term for the Islanders after offseason ankle surgery.
The Gamethread will post at 6:30PM Central, so come hang out with us! The projected lineups, as per DailyFaceoff.com, are below. Thanks for reading!