When the Golden Knights look across the ice at their opponents tonight in many ways it’ll be like looking into a mirror.
The Minnesota Wild have lost five of their last seven games and since their six-game win streak back in mid-December, they’re just 8-8-2. Their biggest issue will sound familiar too.
They can’t score, especially at even strength.
The Wild have managed more than three goals just once in the last 12 games and they have tallied five goals at 5-on-5 in the last seven games.
So, in a move that should sound familiar to VGK fans, Wild head coach Dean Evason attempted to balance out his forward lines.
Joel Eriksson Ek has been dropped down to the 3rd line while Ryan Hartman was reunited with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on the 1st.
Our defensive game is real good and we’ve got to stick with that. But we need to score some goals and we need to score some goals at 5-on-5. (The line shuffling) is order to find some secondary and some primary scoring. We just need to find some goals. -Dean Evason, MIN coach on Tuesday
It didn’t work last night as the Wild fell in Dallas by the score of 4-1. They did generate quite a bit more offense than they have in recent games though, posting 2.68 expected goals at 5-on-5. The “rekindled” top line of Kaprizov, Zuccarello, and Hartman was excellent outshooting the Stars 13-4 while on the ice together and posting a Cosri of 76.7. But, the line of Matt Boldy, Frederick Gaudreau, and Sam Steel struggled mightily and the Eriksson Ek-led 3rd line was on the ice for two Dallas goals.
Tonight will be the first time the Golden Knights have faced the Wild with Bruce Cassidy standing behind their bench. With scoring coming at a premium for both teams, choosing the right matchups could be the difference in the game.
The Wild used a similar lineup to the one they are using now back in the 2021 playoff series between these two teams. The 1st and 3rd lines are identical which should give us some clues as to how they’ll be deployed against Vegas.
In that series, the Wild looked to use the Eriksson Ek line against VGK’s top line (it was Tuch-Stephenson-Stone at the time) and let Kaprizov take on the Misfits. However, Evason consistently attempted to steal shifts with his 1st line against VGK’s 4th.
With Vegas on the road and out of control of the matchups, it’s likely we see Evason try to do the same again tonight. It would make sense for his 3rd line to take on Eichel, Marchessault, and Cotter while allowing Kaprizov to go after Karlsson, Smith, and Amadio and attempting to find offensive zone shifts against Kolesar, Roy, and Howden.
The real question comes with the matchup against the surging VGK 3rd line. Stephenson, Carrier, and Kessel scored three times in the previous game and have looked strong since being put together. Suddenly, they pose a matchup problem, especially to the Wild. Neither of Minnesota’s other two lines matchup well with that group on paper. The Wild’s 2nd line couldn’t get out of their own end last night, while the 4th line including former Golden Knight Ryan Reaves simply won’t be able to keep up.
This is a big game for both teams as they could find themselves fighting for the same wild card spot down the stretch. After their loss last night, Minnesota held a team meeting in which defenseman Jake Middleton said “we’re pissed.” Meanwhile, the Golden Knights come in feeling much more positive looking to keep riding the Dad’s Trip wave.
Oh, and Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for the Wild, in case this game needed any more intrigue.