After what can only be described as a disappointing season opener Thursday night against the New York Rangers, the Minnesota Wild look to bounce back tonight against Kevin Fiala and the Los Angeles Kings. Fiala, being a big part of the offense last year having tallied 85 points will be sure to receive a warm welcome as he returns to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Aside from the homecoming of the former prince of Minnesota, Wild fans will look to see if the team has made any significant adjustments to their play following the 7-3 blowout loss to start the season. Goaltending and defensive zone coverage were obviously at the heart of those issues, and we will likely see a change in their demeanor tonight. Additionally, the Kings definitely lack the star power that the Rangers have in Zibanejad, Panarin and Kreider, so tonight should be a good opportunity for the Wild to get the train rolling in the right direction.
According to head coach Dean Evason, commitment was the biggest issue in the team’s performance on Thursday. The Saturday night sellout crowd will be sure to demand more commitment tonight, and the players know it. After a tremendous two-goal performance Matt Boldy said the goal was to, “learn from it, and be better Saturday.” When asked if the Wild were disadvantaged due to it being the Rangers second game he responded, “You play seven preseason games, it’s tough to have an excuse like that.” Making it clear the team does not feel sorry for themselves.
With the first two points of the season on the line tonight players like Kirill Kaprizov, who was only able to muster an assist and a -4 effort in the opener, will look to get going. Without Fiala, it is really up to those top guys to carry this team and despite Boldy’s efforts, when they’re -4 this team simply isn’t going to win.
The Wild will come into the game with a similar look lines-wise, barring some switches on the back end.
Projected Wild lineup
Kirill Kaprizov — Ryan Hartman — Mats Zuccarello
Tyson Jost — Joel Eriksson Ek — Marcus Foligno
Matt Boldy — Sam Steel — Frederick Gaudreau
Connor Dewar — Marco Rossi — Brandon Duhaime
Jake Middleton — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Alex Goligoski — Calen Addison
Marc-Andre Fleury is starting tonight as the Wild still wait for the right game to have Filip Gustavsson earn his team debut.
One question will be whether or not the Wild can get good production from their fourth line. Last year, one of the strengths of this team was their ability to wear teams down using the fourth group. It was a revolving door of Duhaime, Duwar, Bjugstad, Shaw, Deslauriers, Jost, etc. Their ability to play with the puck in the offensive zone let the big guns rest last year, giving us an advantage in the third that wasn’t there the other night.
Whether the problem was commitment, effort, or focus, Wild fans will be able to find out if those issues were addressed in practice. Hopefully they were, or we could be looking at a season that pales in comparison to last season’s.
Was Thursday a fluke, or has Fleury lost the ability to be an NHL starting goaltender?
It is no secret that veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have his best game against the Rangers. That’s ok, bad games happen. The question will now be: how does he look tonight? It’s safe to say that this Wild team will only go as far as Fleury can carry them, and an .800 save percentage isn’t going to get the job done.
Can Jost buck up?
Tyson Jost isn’t Greenway. No way around it, however the Greef line seemed to lack the unique characteristics that makes them tough to play against, size and toughness. Offensively, Jost didn’t look bad, however him being there makes that line much easier to play against. Can he join Eriksson Ek and Foligno and help turn in a big game for the Greef line?
Will Kirill light it up?
Similar to last season, in which it took Kaprizov a few games to get into the goal column, he was unable to do so on Thursday. More alarmingly however, was his -4 plus/minus. He is the best player on this team, the team goes as Kirill goes. Will he be able to pick up his play and lead the team to victory tonight?