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Preview: Wild face off with Kraken for first time in franchise history

There is no history between these clubs...yet.

Minnesota Wild v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

After a humbling loss to the Nashville Predators Sunday night, the Wild packed their bags and headed west to search for a win. Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, they proved that one bad game wouldn’t define them.

After a long start on the road, the Canucks hosted the Wild in an electric atmosphere that could be felt even over a television broadcast. Understandably so, the game started out as a track race, each team giving up serious scoring chances. The game remained at a tense gridlock until Joel Eriksson Ek caught Tucker Poolman at center ice and found a streaking Mats Zuccarello with an early candidate for pass of the year.

As important as the goal was in the game, it was also critically the first time of the season the Wild had scored first. Soon after, Cam Talbot recorded his best save of the year to maintain the lead for the Wild.

The Wild added another goal from a great effort by Jonas Brodin and quickly found themselves shorthanded, marking another game where the Wild could not resist taking senseless stick penalties. Right away, Alex Goligoski lost his stick and was gifted Marcus Foligno’s. After a minute and thirty seconds of chaos, with most of it seeing Marcus Foligno sliding around blocking passes like he was a soccer player, the Canucks finally capitalized off of their sustained pressure.

Fortunately, a beautiful third period pass by Rem Pitlick found the stick of Matt Dumba and created a 3-1 lead. The Canucks added a second goal late but were unable to score the equalizer, handing the Wild a very impressive 5-1 start to the season. Despite the win, it would be incorrect to say there aren’t improvements to be made as the Wild head to Climate Pledge Arena to take on the Kraken.

The Kraken enter Thursday night’s game with a humble 2-4-1 record, coming off a 5-1 win against Montreal for their first ever home win. Considering how new the team is, it seems like they could come together and begin to string together wins at any moment. Even if their performance isn’t the best, the atmosphere in Seattle has been amazing so far.

Taking a glimpse at the team stats for Seattle so far, their main issue in losses has been scoring goals. They have averaged 2.57 goals a game, but their most recent victory saw them post five. Understandably, their powerplay has also been below average at 14.3% so far. Their penalty kill, unlike the Wild’s, has been great at 87.5%. Compared to the Wild’s (slightly below) 50% in the faceoff circle, the Kraken are operating slightly below at 46%.

Since they are such a recently compiled roster, the pieces are still falling into place on what players are going to fill what roles. When Vegas was added to the league, they watched players like William Karlsson and Johnathan Marchessault blossom. Seattle is hoping some of their players just needed a bigger role to shine in.

One leading candidate, and probably the consensus most important player of the Kraken, is center Yanni Gourde. After being a critical third line player in two Stanley Cup runs for Tampa Bay, Gourde hopes to use his top line minutes in Seattle to elevate himself to a top caliber player in the league. So far, he has posted a goal and three points in the three games he has played (he missed the first four games with an injury).

Other impact players up front for Seattle include former St. Louis Blues left winger (who seemed to always have great games against the Wild) Jaden Schwartz and Calle Jarnkrok. Former Wild and Harvard sniper Ryan Donato also plays on their fourth line. Marcus Johansson is also on the team, but currently injured. On the back end, Seattle is headlined by former Flames captain Mark Giordano. On the back nine of his career, the Kraken will be looking for a few more solid years from Giordano. He was also recently named the first captain in franchise history. In net, the Kraken acquired another former Central Division foe in Phillip Graubauer.

Projected lines for the matchup tomorrow night are as follows:

Schwartz-Gourde-Jankrok
Donskoi-Wennberg-Eberle
Tanev-McCann-Appelton
Donato-Sheahan-Geekie

Giordano-Oleksiak
Larsson-Lauzon
Fleury-Dunn

Graubauer

Breaking down the specifics of how the teams line up, it becomes hard to know. First of all, the Wild are currently in the middle of a COVID crisis that has removed at least a few players from the roster and forced the team to recall a handful of players from Iowa. Since the team has not yet made public which, and how many, players are out of commission, it is hard to know drastic the changes will be to Thursday’s lineup. Considering Michael Russo recorded a podcast with Anthony LaPanta Wednesday evening (a few hours after the news broke) and had recorded another episode of a different podcast that morning with Nico Sturm, I think it is safe to assume that he is not one of the affected players. Looking at the players called up, none of them named Rossi/Beckman/Addison (Boldy is still injured), it seems the Wild are looking for help at the bottom of the lineup. Clearly, these situations create massive speculation and I will conclude my share of it with that.

Burning Questions

How critical will the missing pieces prove to be?

So far, the Wild have jumped out of the gates with minimal changes to their lineup. Besides one start for Kahkonen and an appearance last game for Rem Pitlick, the lineup has been the same in the first six games. Now, with a COVID breakout in the locker room, things appear to be changing. Unfortunately for the Wild, there is a convincing argument to be made that almost every line has been of equal importance so far this year. Sure, the top two lines generate more points, but the bottom six has been great in all three zones night in and night out. No matter who it ends up out of the lineup, it will disrupt a line that serves a significant role for the team.

Can the penalty kill go a game without giving up a goal?

As well as the Wild have been performing in the wins and losses columns, their penalty kill has not gotten the memo. Right now, they are operating at a disastrous 69% percent. As the streak of games where a goal has found its way to the back of the net while shorthanded has continued, the pressure seems to be mounting. However, to be fair, the most recent contest saw a goal scored on the penalty kill in unusual circumstances and then successful kills the remainder of the night. If the Wild want to continue winning close games, they will need to find a way to protect the middle. handle pucks, and effectively clear the puck while down a man.

Will we see any new faces in the lineup?

As COVID continues to wreak havoc on the world, professional sports continues to not be an exception. As horrible as it is to have to still see players vanish for a quarantine period, it provides players who might not normally get a shot a chance to prove themselves. Out of the three call-ups, I think Connor Dewar has the most to prove. After being one of the guys projected to make a run at the roster, he got weeded out pretty quick once the preseason started. This wasn’t due to his poor play, but more so the play of Beckman and Duhaime. Either way, I would love to see him get another shot if he is needed.