The training and preparing and planning is largely over. With the cold starting to creep into our lives, so does the NHL regular season and so does the Minnesota Wild playing games that actually matter.
It all starts with this final preseason game, against the Dallas Stars, as a quasi dress rehearsal for the real thing and trying to leave enough of an impression that can make us confident heading into the 2022-23 regular season and sure of our own want of the Wild being a team that really matters after 82 games and will continue playing several more after that.
Tonight, they are playing the players and the lineup that most likely will be in St. Paul next Thursday against the New York Rangers, as the final tune-up.
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
Alex Goligoski — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Jake Middleton — Calen Addison
That sure looks real.
Everyone — except the injured Jordan Greenway and Jon Merrill — is here and accounted for. Tyson Jost looks like to have taken Greenway’s spot to start the season, with the younger talent all in an incredibly offensively charged bottom-six, and might just happen to be the most talented bottom two forward lines we’ll ever see. Talk about depth!
On the blue line, there is a slight change to what was predicted. Throughout the beginning of training camp and the preseason, head coach Dean Evason said he was going to change the typical two pairings and put Jonas Brodin with Jared Spurgeon to form this ultra-mega-two-way duo, and Jake Middleton would be with Matt Dumba. But it appears that has changed for now.
What Evason might be doing — and he somewhat confirmed it — is having the talent more spread-out during home games, where he has more control of matchups, and then have the top-heavy blue line to handle all the pressure of playing on the road. I guess we’ll find out later.
Marc-Andre Fleury will play the entire game, so this really is going to be like the real thing.
After this blog was published, the Wild made us look like big time idiots and released the actual roster for tonight’s game. We should have assumed that despite Evason saying that he wanted this game to be a full dress rehearsal, that the two forwards battling out for spots, Nic Petan and Mason Shaw, would be in the lineup anyways.
Still, all 12 original forwards are present on the roster sheet, so either there will be 14 forwards playing during this game, or Minnesota just decided to list everybody.
On the other side of the ice, if they opt for a similar “dress rehearsal” lineup, it could be a hell of a game.
Projected Stars lineup:
Jason Robertson — Roope Hintz — Joe Pavelski
Mason Marchment — Tyler Seguin — Wyatt Johnston
Jamie Benn — Radek Faksa — Denis Gurianov
Jacob Peterson — Luke Glendening — Joel Kiviranta
Ryan Suter(lol) — Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell — Nils Lundkvist
Joel Hanley — Jani Hakanpaa
That top-six group might just be deadly, even if it features a rookie and a new signee. The Stars’ top line was one of the best last season and they appear to be reunited and poised to make even more noise. After the top two lines, it kind of falls off into one-dimensional players and just hope that it doesn’t fall apart.
The first two pairings are all right, with a sort of balancing act as there is one slow guy and one good, young, fast guy. And maybe we’ll get Oettinger in net but who knows.
This is only if the Stars really want to take their entire team up to St. Paul and not just take it easy before the games start to really matter.
See you at 5:00 p.m. for this fake but real game.
Will Rossi make the shrunk opportunity still worthwhile?
Marco Rossi is not a fourth line center but he is to start the season. He will still get time on the power play and possibly the secondary unit for the penalty kill, but right now, at 5-on-5, he’s on the bottom line, but with two very talented wingers. Now with the full lineup in effect, are we going to see less production from the 21-year-old? Logic says, yeah, duh, but maybe he’ll get a point or two tonight.
Can Goligoski handle top-pairing minutes again?
Goligoski is on the top pairing, somehow. We know that his time in the lineup is limited to when Jon Merrill returns — unless someone else really stinks it up — but in these next few weeks, it will be really tough to imagine him being able to keep up with Spurgeon like he did somewhat before and being an active contributor. If he leads the blue line in scoring in the first 10 or so games, I’ll eat my words.
Will the power play continue buzzing?
The Wild’s power play this preseason has been great. They have scored five goals on the man advantage, which is tied for the third-most among all 32 teams and it has been one of the better ones, in terms of making their shots worthwhile. They have gone for a quality over quantity approach for their shot attempts on the powerplay in the preseason — and I’m sure that is just due to the lack of talent available — so we’ll see if that is a trend that continues with the full lineup.
We’re almost there!