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Preview: Wild shaking things up for visit from Penguins

A new lineup, a new starting goaltender, and some new hope.

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NHL: MAR 31 Penguins at Wild Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is happening way more often than it used to, but the Minnesota Wild are debuting another new set of forward lines in a game tonight as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Wild vs. Penguins

When: 7:00 p.m. CT
Where: Xcel Energy Center
TV: BSN, BSWI, ATTSN-PT, TVAS
Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Last season, it felt like head coach Dean Evason was so set in his ways when it came to the lineup he would put out there. But then again, maybe it was just because the team was winning way more than they are right now and success can make a coach stick with the plan.

Either way, they’re up against a strong opponent tonight, even if the Wild technically sit on top of them in the standings. This Penguins season has not gone all that strong. After keeping the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang together this summer, they have come out of the gate hobbling and limping despite being one of the healthier squads in the league.

The typical players are leading the team in scoring, with Crosby and Malkin at the top, and the acquisition of Jeff Petry for the blue line seems to be working out, but just for some reason, they are not getting the results they want, so far. All signs are pointing to an explosion later in the season and they will suddenly whim themselves back into the playoff picture like they always do, but considering that in their last 10 games they have a 2-6-2 record, it’s not happening right now, unless the Wild just hand them the platform to springboard off of.

Back to Minnesota, they are starting a substantial homestand as they welcome in a boatload of Stanley Cup contenders and it starts with the Penguins. Unfortunately, they are in the middle of still trying to figure things out and, like we mentioned, have a new and fresh lineup to experiment with.

Projected Wild lineup

Kirill Kaprizov — Frederick Gaudreau — Mats Zuccarello
Mason Shaw — Connor Dewar — Matt Boldy
Brandon Duhaime — Joel Eriksson Ek — Marcus Foligno
Tyson Jost — Marco Rossi — Sam Steel

Jake Middleton — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill — Calen Addison

Filip Gustavsson (obviously) will be the Wild’s starting goaltender and Zane McIntyre will make his bench debut.

The top line stays in tact, but after impressing with both Joel Eriksson Ek and Marco Rossi as their centers, the duo of Mason Shaw and Connor Dewar have climbed their way up the ladder and are going to have winger Matt Boldy paired with them as Dewar goes back to his natural position down the middle.

As the third line is built to run over the opponent and potentially punish them down low in the offensive zone, the fourth line just feels put together with scraps. Rossi has not looked as we expected, but putting him with Tyson Jost, who hasn’t played a game since Nov. 9, and Sam Steel, who has disappointed; feels like not the best combination to get the young rookie going. Maybe we’re wrong and suddenly the Jost-Rossi pairing just explodes like they did in the preseason, but right now it’s looking awkward.

Projected Penguins lineup

Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker — Evgeni Malkin — Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn — Jeff Carter — Danton Heinen
Ryan Poehling — Teddy Blueger — Josh Archibald

Marcus Pettersson — Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin — Jeff Petry
Chad Ruhwedel — Jan Rutta

Tristan Jarry is the projected starter for the Penguins, but we’ll know closer to puck drop if it is him or Casey DeSmith.

Well, that’s a whole lot of talent up top. The Penguins’ top-six can still compete with the best in the league as they evolve into a new era with Jake Guentzel taking on a massive offensive responsibility and the combination of Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker supply a solid load of depth offense.

The lineup on paper does not match their team record, and as we mentioned, everything is pointing to a bounceback and winning a whole lot more hockey games. Decent goaltending, a two-way blue line that is old but mobile, and a group of forwards that can break games. That seems nice.

Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.

Burning Questions

This might be getting old, but does the new lineup work?

It seems like Dean Evason is not himself. He is trying to force more combinations, in search of something that clicks within the first game or two, but if they end up in Wild losses, he moves on and changes it up again. Evason used to be the most stubborn coach when it came to forward lines, so this is a little out of character.

Anyways, how will this look? Will Dewar, Shaw, and Boldy mesh as a trio? Will Rossi still look somewhat invisible on the fourth line? Will that third line suffocate opposing offense like they’re built to do?

Can the Wild just not take as many penalties?

Lately, Wild skaters just love being in the box. Maybe they like the break off the ice and just some alone time, but it’s getting troublesome. Over the last five games, the Wild’s opponents have averaged four powerplay opportunities. That’s way too damn much. It is not only a chance to let the other team score a goal, but it kills any momentum the Wild have almost immediately. Can we keep it to two or less?