The Wild lost four of their last five games before the three day hiatus, while the Stars recorded a 2-1-2 record in their last five, including two in a row at home right before the break.
Dallas has collected enough points to finally start putting a little distance between themselves and the rest of the logjam within striking distance of a wild card spot. They’re currently four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks, who are sitting in the first spot out of a playoff position as of today. They’re even now sitting within striking distance of a top three spot in the Central Division, just three points behind the Winnipeg Jets for third and five points behind the St. Louis Blues. A win tonight could put the Stars in a position to make up a ton of ground in their quest for a (more secure) playoff standing position, with a showdown versus the Blues coming up on Friday night at home.
On the other hand, Minnesota is on the outside looking in after flying high last season and finishing second in the division. They’re just one point out of a wild card spot, part of the logjam. And they’re four points behind Dallas, which means this “four point swing” game could go a long way in helping the Wild to make up some ground themselves in the standings.
It’ll be a big two points for both teams, so I expect a hard game tonight.
After mixing the centers up and seeing success with offense in the last five plus game stretch, head coach Ken Hitchcock is at it again. Here’s what the lines were from morning skate today:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Devin Shore
Mattias Janmark - Martin Hanzal - Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Remi Elie - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns - Julius Honka
Benn and Seguin reunite, as Seguin moves back to his first line center spot (it’s really where he belongs, let’s be honest.) Hanzal, who Hitchcock praised recently because of the little things he does in the game, moves up to second line center, while Spezza, who is still struggling to find any semblance of a consistent offensive game this season, will center the fourth line. I’d expect to see him still get power play minutes tonight, even if his even strength minutes are likely to decrease in this new role. Ritchie, who was the healthy scratch for the past few games, draws back in as Gemel Smith draws out.
The defense remains as-is, with Marc Methot practicing in Dallas today. He’s supposed to be joining the team on Thursday, but isn’t likely to draw back into the lineup until the calendar flips to 2018. That’s when the debate about who the six should be on the blueline will rage once more, but for now we get to take a miniature break from that.
Ben Bishop will be the starter tonight with Kari Lehtonen backing up. For another game, the Stars will draw the opposition’s backup netminder, as Alex Stalock will start tonight for the Wild instead of the usual starter Devyn Dubnyk.
The Wild will be without Zach Parise still, who was sent to the AHL today on a conditioning stint. Nino Niederreiter, who always seems to score when the Wild play the Stars, didn’t take morning skate with a foot/ankle injury, is also not likely to be in the lineup tonight. Wild lines at morning skate were as follows:
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Tyler Ennis - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle
Daniel Winnik - Joel Eriksson Ek - Chris Stewart
Marcus Foligno - Matt Cullen - Zack Mitchell
Ryan Suter - Mathew Dumba
Jonas Brodin - Jared Spurgeon
Mike Reilly - Nate Prosser