The Edmonton Oilers centermen will see some unfamiliar faces across the dot as they make their second trip to Xcel Energy Center this season.
Already short captain Mikko Koivu to a lower-body injury, Minnesota pivot Eric Staal suffered an upper-body injury during Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, and the Minnesota Wild’s primary fill-in Nico Sturm reportedly had back spasms during a morning skate this week, rendering him unavailable for a call-up. Instead, the Wild promoted Gerald Mayhew for his second stint with the big club this season. Mayhew filled in for an injured Mats Zuccarello for six games in October, potting two goals on nine shots. He also is currently second in the AHL in goals scored with 14.
Luckily, unlike the long-term injuries suffered lately by Koivu, Jared Spurgeon (upper body) and Greg Pateryn (lower body), Staal’s injury doesn’t seem to be nearly as severe. He avoided being placed on injured reserve, and according to The Athletic’s Michael Russo, Staal might even try to practice Thursday morning. If the veteran centerman can’t go, expect to see some unfamiliar faces at the face-off dot come Thursday night:
Gerry Mayhew recalled by #mnwild after last night’s injury to Eric Staal. With Nico Sturm also hurt, Ryan Hartman will probably move to center. Top-3 centers tomorrow vs. EDM will likely be Rask, Donato and Eriksson Ek— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 11, 2019
Sufficed to say, this is not the lineup the Wild were hoping to roster against a talented opponent like the Oilers. Donato versus Connor McDavid and Rask against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a mismatch, to say the least. Add to the fact that Edmonton will be motivated to settle the score after the last meeting, a surprise 3-0 victory on home ice — a game in which Staal broke an early slump with a two-goal, three-point outing.
And despite the fact that the Oilers have lost two straight and five of their last seven, Edmonton still boasts one of the best special teams units in the NHL, ranked first on the power play at over 31 percent, and eighth on the penalty kill. This does not bode well for the Wild, as their power play has been held scoreless for four straight games, and their penalty kill has been victimized for at least one goal in each of their last five.
In goal, Alex Stalock seems likely to man the crease for the Wild, with Kaapo Kahkonen having gotten the call on Tuesday against the Ducks.
Update: Kahkonen is getting his second consecutive start.
Regular starter Devan Dubnyk did not end up practicing Thursday after a long stint away from the team tending to his ailing wife. He is likely at least a few more games away from returning.
The Oilers will likely turn once again to Mikko Koskinen, who was last seen giving up six goals, including this one:
Hopefully we see some more of that.
Can Minnesota keep earning points in the standings despite their depleted roster? Or will the Oilers break their own losing streak and kick the Wild while they’re down?
Puck drops at 7 p.m. CT at the X.
1) Will Wild Twitter have reason to bring back their favorite hashtag?
No... not #StripTheC. Or #FireFenton.
I’m talking about #GerryTime. During last season’s Calder Cup playoff run, Mayhew’s goal-scoring binge got #GerryTime darn near trending on a frequent basis. The Iowa Wild star has two goals on the season for the big club, and scored in his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Can he make the most of this second cup of coffee and get the fan base all... atwitter?
2) Can the Wild shut down the Oilers top-ranked power play?
If there was a time for the Wild’s penalty kill, usually ranked near the top of the league, to return to form, it would be now. Edmonton has found the net with the man advantage seven times in the last 20 opportunities — a success rate of 35 percent. The Wild have allowed at least one power-play score in each of their last five. For the Wild to pull off the upset, they’ll need to turn those stats on their heads by playing disciplined hockey and locking down the high-danger opportunities on the kill. Will they be able to do it?
3) How will the Wild D do against McDavid and company?
D may be short for defense, but as the Wild are concerned, lately D has stood for disastrous, disfunctional and disappointing. Quigs had some great insights on Matt Dumba’s struggles earlier today, but Brodin, Suter and the rest have had up-and-down seasons as well this year. Jared Spurgeon’s not walking through the dasher door anytime soon, so Minnesota will have to continue to rely on young guys like Carson Soucy and Brennan Menell, both of whom have looked pretty good in their limited action. With injuries up and down their lineup, matching Edmonton goal-for-goal will be a tough ask, so it will be up to the Wild defensive corps to neutralize the Oilers’ starpower.