As COVID sweeps through the league, three of the Wild’s final six matchups of 2021 have been postponed, including last week’s home games against Carolina and Florida, as well as an upcoming home game against Detroit which was scheduled for Thursday.
That leaves only tonight’s road game against Dallas and (potentially) next Monday’s away trip to Winnipeg as the Wild’s only contests prior to the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. The NHL has shut down matchups between Canadian and US teams until at least Christmas, so it’s possible that tonight’s matchup against Dallas might be all the Wild have between now and their outdoor date at Target Field against the St. Louis Blues.
The last time the two teams met, the Wild welcomed former defenseman Ryan Suter home for the first time since his buyout with a gift that kept on giving - goals. Seven of them, in fact, as Minnesota routed Dallas 7-2.
After that, both teams managed to reach the pinnicles of success with long winning streaks, only to follow them up with extended losing streaks - the Wild’s currently sitting at three, while Dallas dropped five in a row before beating Chicago 4-3 in their last outing.
Dallas’ losing streak occured in the midst of a series of injuries and illness (not COVID) that decimated the lineup and cost them Roope Hintz, Alexander Radulov, Miro Heiskanen and Joel Kiviranta at times. And just when the roster was getting back to normal against the Blackhawks, Tanner Kero was stretchered off the ice after recieving a brutal hit from Chicago’s Brett Connolly - a hit that would earn him a four-game suspension.
Meanwhile, injuries will necessitate another lineup shuffle for Minnesota, as Jordan Greenway did not make the trip to Dallas with a lower-body injury. Mason Shaw was called up from the Iowa Wild, but according to Michael Russo, he won’t get the go. Instead, the forward lines will look like this:
Kaprizov - Hartman - Zuccarello
Fiala - Eriksson Ek - Foligno
Sturm - Rask - Pitlick
Duhaime - Gaudreau - Bjugstad
Defensively, captain Jared Spurgeon remains out with his lower-body injury, meaning the lines of Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba, Jon Merril-Alex Goligoski and Jordie Benn-Dmitry Kulikov will roll again. Cam Talbot gets the start for the Wild, and will take on Jake Oettinger for the Stars.
Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Can the Wild build on a lead?
The Wild held the lead at times against both Vegas and Buffalo, but instead of pouring on the offense, they allowed both teams to equalize and eventually pull away with the winner.
Will turnovers be an issue again?
Untimely turnovers and poor possession numbers cost the Wild against the Sabres, and the Wild’s Corsi for and expected goals percentages have tanked recently - their xGF% hasn’t surpassed 44% since their win against the Maple Leafs on December 4th. Can the new-look lines find a way to own puck possession and gets some offense on Oettinger?
Will the time off the ice lead to a slow start?
With the off-again, on-again schedule, Minnesota needs to come out flying, especially against a team that can get hot when they’re healthy like the Stars can. Dallas played a back-to-back last weekend and will be playing their third game in four days, so they may have the opposite issue, but the Wild would do themselves a favor by coming out fast and putting on the pressure early. Can they do it?