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Preview: Wild hunting for Black Friday special against Leafs

Wild goals were BOGO on Wednesday, hopefully there’s still some stock left in the back.

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Minnesota Wild v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

After thumping the Winnipeg Jets 6-1 on Wednesday night, the Minnesota Wild turn their attention to another Canadian opponent as they get set to host the Toronto Maple Leafs for some weekday afternoon hockey on Black Friday.

Wild vs. Leafs

When: 1:00 p.m. CT
Where: Xcel Energy Center
Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

The Wild and Leafs are both playing better hockey in late November after having less-than-ideal starts to their 2022-23 seasons. Both teams have enjoyed big wins but also incurred very tough losses in recent weeks, and a win here for either side could do wonders for their confidence and momentum going forward.

Minnesota split the season series with Toronto in 2021-22. The Wild blew a 3-0 lead at home but scraped out a shootout win in December, but were stymied by one of Petr Mrazek’s only good outings as a Leaf in a 3-1 loss in Toronto in February.

The enigmatic Leafs broke the New Jersey Devils’ franchise record 13-game win streak on Wednesday night, winning 2-1 on a night where the Devils had three goals disallowed. They’ve been up and down in recent weeks, delivering high-flying performances against Pittsburgh and Buffalo but falling flat against the Devils and Islanders. The current prevailing narrative in Toronto is the team’s overtime struggles. They’ve gone to overtime six times and lost five of them, and haven’t really looked close to threatening in any of the losses. Their lone overtime goalscorer, Nick Robertson, was in the press box for four straight games before drawing in on Wednesday, but looks to be out of the lineup again today.

The Wild are coming off of one of their best games of the season against the Jets on Wednesday night, putting up six goals and never really looking anything other than completely dominant, save for a few minutes in the second period. Winnipeg barely had any room to breathe, and Filip Gustavsson turned away all but one of the shots the Jets were able to get off. It was a taste of what this Minnesota Wild team can be when they’re firing on all cylinders — and it came without Marco Rossi, who is in the press box for the third game in a row. Bill Guerin is exploring potentially sending Rossi down to the AHL to get a bit of confidence back, which is an unfortunate position to be in after Rossi’s incredible pre-season.

Projected Wild lineup

Kirill Kaprizov — Sam Steel — Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway — Frederick Gaudreau — Matt Boldy
Ryan Reaves — Joel Eriksson-Ek — Marcus Foligno
Mason Shaw — Connor Dewar — Nic Petan

Jake Middleton — Jared Spurgeon
Alex Goligoski — Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill — Calen Addison

Brandon Duhaime suffered an injury against Winnipeg on Wednesday that will keep him out of this one, so it looks like new acquisition Ryan Reaves will draw in for his Wild debut. After demolishing the Jets, I can’t imagine Dean Evason wants to tinker with the lineup too much, other than figuring out a way to slot in Reaves. With the Leafs calling Wayne Simmonds’s number for this afternoon tilt, having Reaves in the lineup might not be the worst idea.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been activated after going on injured reserve last week with an upper-body injury, and will get the start against the Leafs, but it looks like they’re easing him back in, as Filip Gustavsson will get the nod against the Leafs.

Matt Boldy was excellent on Wednesday, scoring three points and looking right at home on PP1 after a spell with the secondary unit. Kirill Kaprizov scored his team-leading 11th goal of the year, and Marcus Foligno found the back of the net twice after being held scoreless since October 15th. Mats Zuccarello has been quiet on the goalscoring front as of late with only one goal in November, but has put up a point in almost every game over the past few weeks.

Projected Leafs lineup

Michael Bunting — Auston Matthews — William Nylander
Calle Jarnkrok — John Tavares — Mitch Marner
Zach Aston-Reese — David Kampf — Pierre Engvall
Alex Kerfoot — Pontus Holmberg — Wayne Simmonds

Mark Giordano — Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin — Timothy Liljegren
Victor Mete — Mac Hollowell

Matt Murray will get another start for the Leafs as Ilya Samsonov inches closer to a return. Samsonov has played incredibly well in his eight games so far this season, and the Leafs won’t want to rush him back, especially with Matt Murray playing pretty lights-out himself since he returned from a groin injury 10 days ago.

The Leafs are extremely banged up on the back end, with 39-year-old Mark Giordano having to play top-pairing minutes in the absence of Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie and now Morgan Rielly, who injured his MCL on Monday and will be out for at least a month. Jordie Benn, who has been a bit of a revelation since returning from an injury sustained in preseason, was hurt in the Leafs’ win in New Jersey on Wednesday and is also week-to-week. Mac Hollowell will be playing in just his second NHL game after debuting against the Devils.

Mitch Marner will be riding a 14-game point streak into Friday afternoon, and has been excellent since returning to John Tavares’ wing. Tavares struggled last season on the back of a horrific injury sustained in the 2021 playoffs, but looks every bit of his old self so far this year, leading the team in goals.

Calle Jarnkrok skated with the Tavares line, but I’m not sure if he’s really a fit in the top six as he doesn’t provide much of an offensive threat and is more at home in a shutdown role along the likes of Zach-Aston Reese and David Kampf. If the Leafs don’t get something going early, expect Sheldon Keefe to pull the blender out.

Puck drop is early — 1:00 pm.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild keep their foot on the gas?

Wednesday’s six-goal outing was a refreshing performance for the Wild, who are bottom-10 in the league in goalscoring. The Leafs have a hot goalie but a severely depleted defense corps, and on the heels of a spectacular offensive performance the Wild will look to take advantage of Toronto’s blueline personnel crisis.

Minnesota came out swinging on Wednesday, hemming the Jets in their own zone for almost the entire first period and riding that momentum for the rest of the game. Starting hot like that again today will be crucial if they want to put on a similar offensive show.

What will Ryan Reaves bring to the team?

To be honest, I’m not expecting much in the way of offense from the veteran fourth-liner, who’s known more for pugilism than putting up points. The newest member of the Wild is without a point in 12 games this season, but he’s not here to do that, he’s here to hit and get in fights. He had a particularly memorable scrap against Marcus Foligno early this season, and with Toronto’s Wayne Simmonds drawing in today we might be in for another main-event tilt.

How does Marc-Andre Fleury look in his return from injury?

Marc-Andre Fleury looked to be finally hitting his stride before going down with an injury last week. He’s turned in solid-to-great performances for pretty much the entire month of November, with the 4-0 loss to Seattle the only exception. He redeemed that loss with a 28-save shutout against the Kraken a week later, before going on IR with an upper-body injury after a loss to the Nashville Predators. Hopefully he can continue his stellar run of form in his return today.