The Dallas Stars are coming off a weak loss at home. Now they’re back on the road and heading into another divisional battle that could prove important.
On paper, the Minnesota Wild don’t pose a huge threat, even as a Central opponent that can effect the dreaded four-point swing. The last-place team in the division is also all the way down in sixth for a Western Conference wild-card spot. But we don’t call it the #MurderDeathKill Division for nothing, and it’s far too early to figure on a playoff berth when any other team, on any given night, can play spoiler.
A loss in St. Paul will more immediately affect the Stars’ battle for dominance with the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs currently hold the No. 2 position in the division only by tiebreaker, and only because the Victory Green Gang let the Buffalo Sabres get away from them on Thursday.
Arguably the worst part of that 4-1 defeat was the loss of Miro Heiskanen in the second period. He’s currently listed as day-to-day after being struck in the head by Rasmus Asplund’s stick and knee during a puck battle.
But in the no-news category, the Stars’ top lines are still having difficulty hitting the scoreboard. And the entire team is still stuck on giving up early leads and trying to make it up in the second (or third) period. Hope is not a strategy, and Tyler Seguin himself has warned against allowing this bad habit to continue:
The better news is that Stephen Johns is ready to play, according to GM Jim Nill:
Jim Nill on Stephen Johns: "Is he a player Saturday night? I'll leave that up to the coaches. We'll discuss that, but he's got the green light to go as of now."— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) January 16, 2020
Sure enough, he headed north with the team yesterday afternoon:
Interim head coach Rick Bowness has expressed his eagerness to work with Johns. Johns himself is more than ready to be back too:
Stephen Johns: “I think it’d be a little weird if I wasn’t nervous, but I’m overly excited. Obviously, for 22 months, this is the day I’ve looked forward to.”— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) January 18, 2020
Mattias Janmark should return after missing Thursday’s game, and Radek Faksa has been placed on IR (retroactive to his last game played) as he remains out with an upper-body injury. Miro Heiskanen, who took a cross check and knee to the head in the last game, didn’t make the trip to Minnesota today for the game.
The Minnesota Wild have the home-ice advantage for tonight’s contest. Unfortunately for them, their home record has taken a turn for the bad in recent weeks (2-3-1 since December). Worse, their 21 wins season-to-date are well under the league average of 24, as a promising December has faded into a January slump.
But is the worm turning for the Wild? The team extended its winning streak against the Tampa Bay Lightning to five games on Thursday in Xcel Center. After losing six of their previous seven games, including four losses in a row, they may be feeling a fresh wind at their backs. And after getting a seven-game home stand off to a good start, they’d love to keep it going.
These two teams whose stories are so intertwined are currently sharing a much more basic thread: Their top scorers are not scoring all that much. Indeed, bottom-sixer Marcus Foligno, who’s been playing at a point-per-game pace this month, has carried most of their water since the decade began.
This could mean that top-line Wild forwards like Eric Staal (who broke a five-game pointless streak with a single assist against the Bolts) and Mats Zuccarello (one goal in six games) are due to heat up again soon. In addition, keep an eye on defender Ryan Suter, who broke his own goal drought with a tally in the Wild’s victory on Thursday.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Joel Kiviranta
Mattias Janmark - Roope Hintz - Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry
Denis Gurianov - Joe Pavelski - Blake Comeau
Esa Lindell - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - John Klingberg
Andrej Sekera - Stephen Johns
Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Mats Zuccarello
Jason Zucker - Victor Rask - Kevin Fiala
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Luke Kunin
Jordan Greenway - Mikko Koivu - Ryan Hartman
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Carson Soucy - Greg Pateryn
Puck Drop: 8 PM CST (Xcel Center, St. Paul, MN)
TV: FOX Sports SW
Radio: KTCK 1310 AM / 96.7 FM The Ticket
Online: FOX Sports Go app / theticket.com