Minnesota Wild (18-17-3) at Toronto Maple Leafs (26-11-2)
Puck drop: 1:08 p.m. CT
Watch: FOX Sports North; FOX Sports app
Well, back to the drawing board.
After putting together a decent showing against the Winnipeg Jets last Saturday the Wild fell New Years Eve as the latest in a string of victims to the Pittsburgh Penguins. This afternoon the Wild will look to just get their feet back on solid ground here. Really, either opposing goalies against the Wild lately are wearing some kind of puck magnets, or the Wild have some of the worst puck luck around. The Wild are putting up shots, they’re generating some chances. The puck is just not finding its way into the back of the net right now. The Wild have scored just 10 goals in their last 7 games. WOOF!
If the Wild are going to figure things out, they’re going to have to do it on the road as the team kicks off a four game road trip this afternoon including a three game Canadian swing before finishing off the trip off in Boston. And in a goofy, rare mid-week afternoon game the Wild will faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs in just a few short hours. The 1 pm central time puck drop gives us all a rare opportunity to slack off at work and try to catch a little of the game. Not sure the players appreciate the drastic shift in their routines though.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, once cast to the pit of despair, have put together a solid 2018-19 campaign so far. Standing at 26-11-2, the Leafs have put up 54 points in 39 games and are second in the Atlantic division with a six point cushion over the Bruins right now. John Tavares is tied for second in the league with 26 goals, Mitch Marner has 40 assists and 53 points. Auston Matthews is as good as ever, and although he might not be lighting the lamp as much as Tavares, he is always a threat to break out, and he hasn’t scored a goal in his last few games so look out.
Between the pipes for the Leafs we have a bit of a situation. Frederik Andersen was placed on IR this morning and has been out since December 22nd with a groin injury. Their backup goalie Garret Sparks is also on the mend after taking a puck off the mask in practice on Wednesday and was subsequently placed into the concussion protocol. So Toronto has recalled Michael Hutchinson who was recently acquired from the Florida Panthers, and Kasimir Kaskisuo from the Leafs AHL affiliate the Marlies and one of them will likely be in the cage for the Leafs this afternoon.
Defensively the Leafs feature Morgan Rielly with his 13 goals and 31 assists and averaging over 22 minutes a game from the blue line. He, along with Jake Gardiner make up the bulk of the defensive scoring for the Leafs. The defense has helped the Leafs keep pucks out of the net, allowing just 109 goals against this season. That mark is good enough for 5th in the NHL right now.
In their last outing, the Maple Leafs were routed 4-0 by the New York Islanders. A rare misfire for the Leafs who will be looking to start putting pucks back in the net this afternoon to make up for lost time. Despite the Leafs perhaps being a bit hamstrung between the pipes, they still bolster one of the better skating lineups in the NHL. They know they will need to be a little more diligent in front of their cage today, and will try to bail out their fill-in all afternoon. If the Wild can generate a lot of traffic up front, keep whomever the Leafs have in goal busy trying to see through bodies, they should be able to find some success against the lighter competition in net.
Then again, the Wild do like to make backup goalies look like all-stars.