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Minnesota looks to turn the page in Chicago after a well needed holiday break

The Minnesota Wild (17-15-3) are back in action tonight as they are set to play rival Chicago Blackhawks (13-20-6).

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

MINNESOTA WILD AT CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
7:30PM Central, United Center, Chicago, Illinois
TV: Fox Sports North, ESPN+
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: Fox Sports Go, NHL.tv, ESPN+

The Minnesota Wild got a much-needed break after losing 9 of the past 12 games, including a season high 4 straight losses heading into tonight’s matchup in the Windy City. Following a disappointing 2-1 overtime loss on Saturday to the Dallas Stars —a game in which the Wild held play and failed to capitalize on their chances— the Wild start a tough part of the schedule tonight, as they play a stretch of six of seven games on the road. Up first, Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks.

The Minnesota Wild currently sit two points out of a wild card spot and have a chance this evening to take advantage of a bottom five team in the league to gain some ground in the standings.

Minnesota is 1-1-0 after two season meetings against Chicago. The Wild collected a 4-3 overtime victory in the first meeting at Xcel Energy Center (10/11) and lost 3-1 in the second meeting at the United Center (11/18).

All-time, the Minnesota Wild are 19-15-2 at Chicago.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The Blackhawks return to the postseason this year after failing to make the playoffs last season seems to be a long shot at this point. The return to the “dynasty that was” is simply not shaping out too greatly for the Hawks. The core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook seems to be aging and a lack of depth has Chicago looking up in the standings thus far this season. The Blackhawks are currently tied for the 3rd worst team in the league with 32 points, only one point more than the Kings (31) and Devils (31). Lose for Hughes is in full motion.

Defense has been a big problem for the Blackhawks. They have given up the most goals in the league (144), largely due to fact they give up shots like Oprah Winfrey gives away cars. Chicago is allowing the 3rd most shots against per game in the league (33.9).

Personally, I don’t know if I remember a team struggling in the special teams’ department more than this current Chicago Blackhawks team. Both their power-play and penalty-kill are near worst in the league. The Hawks own the second worst power-play (13.0%) and the worst penalty-kill (73.7%). Yikes.

Patrick Kane is governing the way once again for the Blackhawks, leading them in almost all offensive categories. Kane leads the team in goals (17), assists (27), points (44), power-play points (11), game-winning goals (3), shots (151), and is second on the team in average time of ice (21:52) trailing only defenseman Duncan Keith in that category.

The Blackhawks production drops severely after Kane, with only three other players having hit the 20-point mark thus far. Captain Jonathan Toews has 32 points, sophomore goal scorer Alex DeBrincat isn’t slowing down after a breakout rookie campaign having posted 17 goals and 31 points, and Brandon Saad (Yup, the guy who was traded for Artemi Panarin) has 20 points.

Cam Ward will likely get the nod in net tonight with Corey Crawford out for an extended period of time due to a concussion. The former Conn Smythe winner has seen a decline in his game in recent years and this year isn’t looking much better for the net minder. In 17 games this season, Ward has a .886 save percentage and a 3.90 goals against average. But then again, the Minnesota Wild find a way to make Chicago Blackhawks goaltenders look like Vezina caliber goaltenders.

As anyone with a brain can tell, a lack of depth, bad defense, horrendous goaltending play, and poor special teams is a bad combination for a hockey team and a big reason for why the Blackhawks are tied for the 3rd worst team in the NHL

STORYLINES

Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek did not make the trip to Chicago as he will be officially reassigned to Iowa tomorrow, per the Michael Russo of The Athletic. Eriksson Ek has 1 goal and 4 points in 27 games. He’s been a disappointment to say the least this season—many thought he would have his “breakout year”— and a trip down to Iowa to gain some confidence in his game while playing big minutes might in fact provide the best development for the former first round pick. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau says there’s no timetable for how long Eriksson Ek will be in Iowa, “it depends on him.”

The last time the Wild faced the Blackhawks, Nick Schmaltz was still on the team. On November 25th, general manager Stan Bowman made a hockey deal with the Arizona Coyotes sending Schmaltz to the desert in exchange for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini, making it a swap of three former first round draft picks.

Since the trade, Dylan Strome has scored 6 goals and 9 points in 15 games playing the majority of his time in a second line center role. Brendan Perlini has 2 goals and 3 points in 14 games, adding depth to the lineup for the Blackhawks on the 4th line.

INJURIES

Minnesota- Matt Dumba is officially out for at least 3 months. The Wild defenseman underwent successful surgery to repair a ruptured right pectoralis muscle and is expected to miss a minimum of three months.

Chicago- The Blackhawks will be short a couple of players and a goaltender, including Corey Crawford (concussion), Henri Jokiharju (concussion), Brandon Davidson (lower body), Marcus Kruger (concussion), and Matthew Highmore (shoulder), per rotowire.com.

Tonight’s Gamethread will post at 7:00 PM Central. Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com and Michael Russo of The Athletic.

Zucker-Staal-Granlund

Parise-Coyle-Kunin

Greenway-Koivu-Niederreiter

Foligno-Fehr-Brown