In seasons past, a downtrodden Minnesota Wild team used wins against the Buffalo Sabres to turn their seasons around and push towards the playoffs. Things may not be that dire this time around in 2021, but having dropped their last two outings, the Wild would love to get their winning mojo back by defeating a team they haven’t seen in over two years - and haven’t played at the Xcel Energy Center in over three.
So much has changed since the Sabres took the ice in St. Paul in a 3-2 Buffalo victory on November 17th, 2018. Of the Minnesota roster that took the ice that night, only five remain for the Wild - Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway at forward, and Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon on defense.
The 2021 Wild will be looking to rebound from a pair of disappointing losses after their eight-game winning streak came to an end last week at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. Minnesota was granted a restful reprieve on Tuesday when the Carolina Hurricanes had to postpone their scheduled trip to St. Paul with an influx of players in the COVID protocol.
Rested and finally healthy for what seems like the first time since the season began, the Wild will roll with the same lines they had in the loss to Vegas on Sunday, and Cam Talbot will get the net once again.
#mnwild lines, no changes— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 16, 2021
Pitlick, Benn scratches. Talbot in net
Buffalo, has had many injury woes all season, currently with Drake Caggiula and Casey Mittelstedt on injured reserve with upper body injuries and Craig Anderson out week-to-week with an upper body ailment of his own. Former Wild prospect Alex Tuch has missed the entire season to this point recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Sabres coach Don Granato says Tuch is close to returning and returned to practice in a non-contact jersey, but obviously won’t be available against the Wild. Defenseman Robert Hagg was injured during the Sabres’ last outing, a 4-2 win against Winnipeg, and returned to Buffalo for evaluation.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is expected to get the start in net for Buffalo.
With the Wild’s division lead trimmed to two points and with St. Louis, Colorado and Nashville nipping on their heals, two points against a bottom-tier Sabres team could be just what’s needed before some tough upcoming games against Florida, Winnipeg, and perennial foe Dallas as 2021 comes to a close.
Can the Wild dull the Sabres and get back to their winning ways? We’ll find out at 7 p.m.
Can the Wild’s defense get back to jelling?
Thomas posed the question in the Carolina preview, but it’s a vital one - with the Wild’s defensive core finally healthy and back to their normal pairings, can Minnesota improve on their effort against Vegas that saw them allowing six goals by the Golden Knights? Or will the Wild miss the scrappy, proud efforts of players like Jordie Benn and increased icetime for Dmitri Kulikov, both of whom stepped up while Spurgeon was out?
Can Moose keep on charging?
While many of the Wild goal scorers have had some power outages lately (leading Wild goalscorer Ryan Hartman is goalless in his last five, and Kirill Kaprizov went 0-for in the Wild’s recent two losses), Marcus Foligno has pulled his weight with goals in four of his last five and six of his last eight. Can Foligno keep it up - and will the Wild’s regular goal-scoring suspects add to the offensive bonanza?