The Minnesota Wild spent their first 100 minutes of this season looking like a team that was out of sorts.
They will try to capitalize on the momentum gained when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, who swept the season series last year.
The Wild are a team still trying to gel, and this could be a crucial road trip for them in terms of team unity.
“I’d much rather have a road trip early on,” Head Coach Todd Richards told reporters. “We’ll have a dinner in Anaheim, I know the guys are planning something on Sunday, we have a day off in San Jose, so they’ll be doing something as a group and spend some time together.”
To a team that is still finding its identity, this time together should prove invaluable.
With Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Derek Boogaard both on the shelf with injuries, don’t expect to see any changes to the team’s lineup.
That said, the Wild experimented with lines on Tuesday night’s game and Richards liked what he saw and will likely run these same lines in Thursday’s game.
I would expect Harding to get his first start of the season on this road trip as well. My expectation would be that it would be in Edmonton—a building that Niklas Backstrom is notorious for having trouble in.
While the Kings lineup hasn’t been released yet, it appears as if former Wild captain Sean O’Donnell will be back from his five-game suspension. The odd man out will be Peter Harrold.
In net expect to see Jonathan Quick, who is 3-0-0 lifetime against Minnesota with a 1.95 GAA.
What to Watch For
Both LA and Minnesota are coming off of huge wins.
Both teams are going to be looking to build off of this momentum and LA will be looking to cap their three-game homestand with a victory.
Keep an eye on the Nolan line tonight. Nolan and Sheppard displayed a great deal of chemistry with one another during training camp and Nolan has taken Sheppard under his wing to try to improve the young forward’s game. Both Nolan and Sheppard have played two solid games to start the season, but both have been held off the scoresheet to date.
This is no big concern for Nolan, however, who took some time to get going last season. For Sheppard, however, it is crucial that he start getting his confidence going and start getting some points. He has displayed some great play so far this season and once he gets going, the flood gates are going to open.
The Kings have been running a third line that, honestly, is by name only. The line of Handzus-Frolov-Simmonds will likely get a lot of time against the Wild’s top scoring line. Against San Jose, this line was the spark plug that really got the team going and the Wild’s top lines will need to be solid defensively to prevent this from happening.
Keys to the Game
Four of the Wild’s five goals this season have been scored on the powerplay and the Kings penalty kill is 2 for 7 so far this season.
The Wild have the luxury of being able to run a number of different combinations both on the powerplay and on the penalty kill, allowing them to give teams a lot of different looks. This will be key towards getting on the board against a goalie that has had a lot of success against the Wild.
While special teams will be key in determining the outcome of this game, the Wild need to find their scoring touch when even strength as well. It was the Achilles’ heel of this team last season and they need to find their scoring touch when five-on-five if they want to be successful.
Again, doing the little things right is going to be important for the Wild.
The team is winning just under 55 percent of their faceoffs this season—something that helped them complete their comeback on Tuesday night. The team is finally winning big draws and, because of that, are giving themselves more scoring opportunities and preventing more as well.
The puck drops at 9:30 CST tonight and will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.