A few things have changed in the life of Mats Zuccarello since the last time he skated on the ice at MSG — two teams, three GMs, a broken arm, a playoff run and a reptilian nickname. And now, the Lizard King returns home to play his original squadmates, the New York Rangers, in a mirror-image of the last time he played in the Big Apple. While the locker rooms might be different for the former Ranger, let’s hope the result stays the same, as the Wild won Zuccarello’s last game as a Blueshirt by a score of 4-1.
A decisive victory would be welcome after the Wild’s last outing, a brutal 5-4 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins — a game where Minnesota led by two goals with less than two minutes left in the third period and Parise and the rest of his overtime linemates looked like Spanish bullfighters and said “ole” while Torey Krug went end to end to easily beat Alex Stalock for the win.
But the less said about that game, the better.
The Wild continue their three-game east coast roadie without the services of their starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who remains away from the team while he deals with a family situation. Minnesota called up Kaapo Kahkonen from Iowa, and while the young Finnish netminder will likely start a game in the next two days with the big club facing a back-to-back with New York and New Jersey, it is expected Alex Stalock will be between the pipes against the Rangers, while Kahkonen most likely gets his first NHL start on Tuesday against the Devils. That’s a shame, because I would really love to hear Wild announcer Anthony LaPanta battle with saying “Kaapo Kakko takes a shot on Kaapo Kahkonen.”
The rest of the Wild roster looks to be unchanged from the Boston game, as Dubnyk is not expected to return until Thanksgiving, and Greg Pateryn and Marcus Foligno are still out with their respective injuries.
As for the Wild’s opponent, the Rangers might match the Wild in terms of enigmatic play. The Blueshirts’ last five games include a 9-3 drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a back-and-forth affair in a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers, a convincing 4-1 win against the Metro division-leading Washington Capitals, an equally unconvincing 4-1 loss against the Ottawa Senators and a wild 6-5 win over the Montreal Canadians, a game where New York overcame a 4-0 deficit.
Alexandar Georgiev saw the net in that high-scoring battle with Montreal, so expect long-time Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist to tend the crease against the Wild.
Puck drops at MSG at 6 p.m. CST. The game is on FSN Plus due to the Timberwolves game, so set your DVRs accordingly.
1. Can the Wild hold onto a lead?
The Wild have a propensity for giving up early leads. The Rangers just proved that no lead against them is safe — even a four-goal deficit to the Habs and future HOF Carey Price. So just as important as scoring first has been, it’s even more important for the Wild to play a full 60 minutes and shut down their opponents when they can. Can the Wild break the “two-goals-is-the-most-dangerous-lead-in-hockey” curse?
2. Can the Wild take advantage with the man advantage?
The Rangers are a pretty dismal 73.8% on the penalty kill, and second-to-last in the league in penalty minutes assessed with 269. On the flip side, Minnesota has been able to convert at least one opportunity in four of the last five games, and have drawn a total of 18 power play opportunities over their last three. Taking advantage on the power play will be critical in getting pucks past Lundqvist. Can they keep their power play going strong tonight against the Blueshirts?
3. Will Zuccarello be fueled by home cooking?
The long-time Ranger will likely be given a hero’s welcome on MSG ice, having played parts of nine seasons in the Big Apple. Zuccarello carries a three-game scoring streak (one goal, three assists) into the battle against his former team. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, will coming home for the holidays be good for the Lizard King? Will Zuccarello be putting away the biscuits and passing the sauce around the table? Or will he suffer a turkey coma against his former squad?