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Preview: Wild look to stay in win column against Coyotes

Wild V. Coyotes is my favourite Looney Tunes character.

NHL: NOV 27 Coyotes at Wild Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a string of frustrating losses this week, the Minnesota Wild got back in the win column on Thursday night with a win over the Islanders. They’re back home tonight, hosting the NHL’s lovable scrappy mutts, the Arizona Coyotes.

Coyotes at Wild

When: 7:00 p.m. CT
Where: Xcel Energy Center
TV: BSWI, BSNX, BSAZ
Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Not everyone is enamored with the Coyotes this season. Some people think their building is a joke, their roster is shocking, and that we should feel bad for everyone involved. Not me.

I can’t help but love these plucky little desert dogs. I visited Mullett Arena a few months ago and saw the Yotes get their first win on Tempe ice. It was the most fun I’d had at a hockey game in a long, long time, and I’d go back there again in a heartbeat. The roster is fun too, with exciting young talents like Dylan Guenther and Barrett Hayton, a quirky right-handed goalie in Karel Vejmelka, and the belle of the trade deadline ball in Jakob Chychrun.

Fortunately for us, they aren’t very good. The Coyotes are currently on a seven-game losing streak that includes losses against some of the NHL’s worst teams, like Philadelphia, San Jose, Chicago, and Ottawa. That’s not necessarily surprising, since the Coyotes are also at the bottom of the NHL standings, but they had beaten some pretty good teams before this cold streak began, toppling the likes of the Maple Leafs, Kings, and even the mighty Boston Bruins.

The Coyotes, much like the Islanders, give up a lot of chances on offense, and while Karel Vejmelka is a good goalie, he isn’t good enough to put up Vezina numbers on a defensively leaky team the way Ilya Sorokin is, so hopefully it won’t take them 50 minutes to get on the board tonight. Vejmelka has been known to stymie a high-powered offense before though, so even if the Coyotes are a little suspect on the back end, don’t expect them to just roll over.

The last time these teams met, the Wild were up 4-1 late in the third period before the Coyotes scored two quick goals (both assisted by the now-injured Matias Maccelli), but couldn’t find the third goal they needed to get the game to overtime. Let’s hope the Wild can win this one in more convincing fashion.

Projected Wild lineup

Kirill Kaprizov — Sam Steel — Mats Zuccarello
Matt Boldy — Frederick Gaudreau — Ryan Hartman
Jordan Greenway — Joel Eriksson Ek — Marcus Foligno
Brandon Duhaime — Connor Dewar — Ryan Reaves

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

Marc-Andre Fleury was expected to get the start on Thursday, but Filip Gustavsson got the nod instead. He let in one pretty awful goal in the first period but was otherwise solid, stopping 19 of 20 in the win. It will be interesting to see if Dean Evason sticks with Gustavsson or goes back to Fleury, who stopped 40 shots on Tuesday in a loss to the New York Rangers.

Hockey men aren’t known to mess with a lineup too much after a win, so I wouldn’t expect any changes from Thursday’s lines. With that said, there have been some pretty underwhelming stretches of play from the Wild over the last two games, and Evason may feel the need to shake things up. If he does, Mason Shaw could draw in, likely in place of Ryan Reaves.

Projected Coyotes lineup

Lawson Crouse — Nick Bjugstad — Dylan Guenther
Nick Ritchie — Travis Boyd — Christian Fischer
Clayton Keller — Barrett Hayton — Nick Schmaltz
Jack McBain — Zack Kassian

Juuso Välimäki — Troy Stecher
Patrik Nemeth — JJ Moser
Jakob Chychrun — Shayne Gostisbehere
Josh Brown

(The Coyotes tweet their lines and pairs in a weird order that doesn’t necessarily correspond to the players’ usage for some reason!)

Karel Vejmelka is likely to get the start between the pipes for Arizona. Despite carrying a below-average save percentage of just .902, he’s no slouch — his numbers are hindered by playing on a team that is fun as hell to watch, but not very good defensively.

Matias Maccelli has been out since Christmas with a lower-body injury. Maccelli was second in rookie scoring before he was ruled out for at least six weeks in December. Clayton Keller somehow avoided suspension after cross-checking Ottawa’s Erik Brännström in the throat on Thursday night, so he’ll be in the lineup.

The Yotes ran 11 forwards and seven defensemen on Thursday, and as of Saturday morning they haven’t recalled Michael Carcone or another forward, so it looks like they’ll play with the extra defender tonight as well.

Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.

Burning Questions

Will the Wild play a 60 minute game?

After 40 minutes of pretty much nothing on Thursday, the Wild came alive in the third period on Thursday to secure a win. Tuesday’s outing was a complete disaster, with Minnesota jumping out to a somewhat lucky 2-0 lead in the first period before getting completely killed the rest of the game — they were lucky to walk away with a point. Losses earlier this week to St. Louis and Buffalo had very promising parts and pretty awful parts. All I’m asking is that the Wild show up from puck drop to final horn. The Wild are a better team than the Coyotes, and they should look it for all 60 minutes of this one.

Can they score on the power play? Or at the very least look like they might?

The Wild went 0-for-5 on the power play on Thursday, and got one shot on goal TOTAL with the man advantage. They also didn’t score on their one attempt on Tuesday, or their three attempts on Sunday. The Coyotes are the fifth-most penalized team in the league, so it’s pretty likely they’ll get a few power plays tonight. A goal with the man advantage would be nice, but they’ve got to at least get some quality chances.