The last time the Minnesota Wild enjoyed back-to-back home games, things were looking up. The Wild edged the Montreal Canadians 4-3, and then decisively handled the Edmonton Oilers in a 3-0 shutout. They enjoyed their first (and only) winning streak, and won three of their last five.
That homestand ended on October 22, and, well, the cheery disposition has faded a bit in the time since.
However, the last time the Wild faced off against Thursday’s opponent, the Arizona Coyotes, we had an opposing netminder smack-talking with former teammates, a bounce-back performance by Devan Dubnyk and a two-goal first period deficit erased by four straight scores en route to a 4-3 Wild victory.
Since then, the two teams have gone in opposite directions, with the Wild putting forth a lackluster effort in a loss to a bad Los Angeles Kings squad, while the Coyotes defeated the two previous Stanley Cup champions on back-to-back nights, with a 4-3 win over the Capitals and a 3-2 victory against the Blues.
The Coyotes are currently in second place in the Pacific Division and are fourth in the league in goals against, though that didn’t stop the Wild from putting up four against Arizona in their last meeting. Though unconfirmed at time of publication, we expect that Darcy Kuemper will get another start against his former team. As for the Wild, Dubnyk reportedly will get another shot between the pipes, with Alex Stalock at the ready to make a relief appearance, if needed.
Update: The Athletic’s Craig Morgan reports that Antti Raanta will in fact get the start for the Coyotes in net.
The Wild have been a halfway decent team at home, and after an up-and-down road trip, maybe the friendly comforts of the X is what they need. The can’t get too comfortable, as after these two at home comes a seven-out-of-ten stretch on the road. But if they can do what they did last time they had a homestand and put a couple points in the win column, they will at least give their hometown fans their money’s worth.
Puck drops at 7 p.m. CT.
Projected lines (via the Star Tribune’s Sarah McLellan)
Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek-Luke Kunin
Ryan Donato-Victor Rask-Ryan Hartman
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
Carson Soucy-Brad Hunt
1) Can the Wild score first?
In each of the last four games, the Wild have allowed their opponents the first goal — in fact, the first two scores. Two of those games were won in come-from-behind fashion, and two of those games saw the comeback fall heartbreakingly short. Minnesota hasn’t scored first since their last home game, a 4-3 loss to St. Louis. It would behoove them to do so. The Wild are 3-0-1 in home games where they get the first goal.
2) Will the fire remain from the last Yotes/Wild meeting? And will they use it?
#AngryMikko is a dangerous Mikko.
Kuemper reportedly had some choice words for his former teammates in the last meeting, and not only did Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker respond in kind, they also used the fire to fuel a comeback that erased two two-goal leads, resulting in their 4-3 win. Will the sparks fly again, and can the Wild rekindle that kind of intensity in order to power the team to another home victory?
3) Will the fans yell “Dooooooob”, or “boooooooo”?
The Wild offense has been looking better lately, putting up at least three goals in six of their last eight games. The problem is, while three goals used to be more than enough for the historically defense-stingy Wild, Dubnyk and the defensive corps has been lackluster, allowing 3.25 goals per game over that same span. Even though the fans who still pack the X might be excited to finally see the team at home after a long road trip, the goodwill will fade fast with another slow start. We’ve talked about scoring first. We’ve talked about fueling the fire and keeping the team (and their fans) energized. But the lynchpin is between the pipes. Dubnyk needs to be on top of his game for the Wild to get the W, and the defense needs to help make that happen.