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Preview: Wild set to take on division-leading Avalanche

It’s a battle between the top two in the West.

Alex Goligoski sitting on the Wild bench in between teammates Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports

Every Minnesotan knows the game is “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck,” but for one game and one game only, I’ll make an exception. That’s right folks, the Minnesota Wild are playing their own version of the game, in which their recent win against the Anaheim Ducks led to us all screaming “Goose!” at Alex Goligoski’s return against the Colorado Avalanche.

His addition bumps Dakota Mermis out of the lineup and moves Jon Merrill to the third defense pairing. Other than that, the lines remain largely the same, according to The Athletic’s Michael Russo:

Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello
Boldy-Gaudreau-Fiala
Greenway-Rask-Foligno
Dewar-Sturm-Duhaime

Benn-Dumba
Kulikov-Goligoski
Merrill-Addison

Kahkonen

Joel Eriksson Ek remains in COVID protocol, while Jared Spurgeon, Cam Talbot, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonas Brodin remain out indefinitely with injuries.

There is no doubt the team is feeling the absence of the injured players and those in protocol. Despite an exciting win in Anaheim, missing five key players, including your captain and starting goaltender, isn’t ideal.

The Colorado Avalanche are always a threat, even more so for a depleted Wild bench. The Avalanche also have five players out, but none are nearly as essential. Additionally, captain Gabriel Landeskog, who entered COVID protocol a week ago, returned on Saturday. Guess we’re out of luck for a captain-less battle in Colorado.

The conference rivals have not faced off since October, in which they started and ended the month against each other. The Wild won 3-1 at the beginning but ended the month with a disappointing 4-1 loss against the Avalanche.

Currently, Colorado sits atop the Central Division with 51 points, followed by the Nashville Predators who have as many points in 4 more games. The St. Louis Blues sit in between the top two, with 49 points, and the Wild, who currently sit in the first Western Conference Wild Card spot at 46 points.

The standings are a bit convoluted currently, with teams playing anywhere from 30 to 40 games around the league, but even so, the Avalanche lead the Central with only one more game played than Minnesota.

A win for the Wild would add security to their Wild Card spot, increasing their points lead on the San Jose Sharks to six points. Additionally, it would bring them within one point of St. Louis, depending on the outcome of tonight’s Blues vs. Predators game.

This afternoon’s tilt could be another high-scoring affair, with the Avalanche currently leading the league in goals per game (4.29) and the Wild following in third place (3.68). Colorado is coming off of a home-and-away series against the Arizona Coyotes, which they swept with 4-3 and 5-0 wins Friday and Saturday. The Wild had 7 goals against Anaheim on Friday.

Colorado is on a 13-home game win streak, really putting the ‘advantage’ in home advantage. With today’s game set to take place in Ball Arena, they look to extend it again.

We’ll see how the Wild fair against the division-leading Avalanche. Puck drops at 2:00 p.m. CST.

Burning Questions

Will the Wild’s defense be able to stop the star-powered Colorado Avalanche?

Realistically, with Spurgeon and Brodin out, it’s hard to put much faith in the Wild’s current blueline. Matt Dumba and Alex Goligoski have their work cut out for him against not only the Avalanche’s forwards but also powerhouse young defenseman Cale Makar.

For the Wild to have a chance today, the forwards are going to have to help out with backchecking and defending. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some frustrating goals in which the Avalanche outskates one or more Wild players, but the key is keeping those to a minimum. A win is a win, no matter how ugly.

Is Alex Goligoski ready to play at 100% in his return?

I can’t speculate about his situation and Goligoski has not talked to the media prior to today’s game, but Wild fans and players alike are excited for the return of the defenseman.

After practice yesterday, teammate Marcus Foligno said Goligoski’s return should “inject some more energy and stability back [on defense].” Goligoski’s return continues the trend towards a healthy roster, which hopefully gives the team momentum today.

Will Matt Boldy score again today?

I don’t think Boldy is ready for a rookie scoring slump just yet. He’s quickly earned his spot in the league, with 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in 3 games. While he might not score against the Avalanche, arguably the toughest opponent he’s faced so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name on the scoresheet for at least an assist or two.