Wild Vs. Jets Preview


Winnipeg Jets at  Minnesota Wild, 6pm tonight, Fox Sports North

Coming out of the Christmas break the Minnesota Wild face a crucial home and home with the division rival Jets this extended weekend. Kicking off that pair of games is tonight’s tilt in St. Paul, and the Wild are desperate to get back on track. The Wild have already hosted the Jets once, in a game that felt like three games. The Wild dominated the first period, there was a rugby scrum in the second period, and the Jets dominated the third period, before Marco Scandella hit one of his famous game winning overtime goals. In the meantime the Jets have put together a pretty nice season for themselves, and currently sit above the Wild in the Central rankings thanks to, surprisingly enough, some solid defensive play and goaltending. The Wild since then have had their share of goaltending and some would argue defensive struggles, and find themselves in a 4 game losing streak, and losing ground in the very early playoff race. Needless to say, this is a very important midseason pair of games with Winnipeg, and many have listed the back to back as ‘Must Win’.

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Game Preview-

As you can see from the table, the Jets are pretty good in the goal prevention department, and not so hot at scoring goals. The Wild meanwhile are a confusing team, with a decent offense, except on the Power Play, and a below average defense, except on the penalty kill. For the Wild to break out of the slump that they’re in, they’ll need high marks in all four categories, as Power Play scoring and Even strength defense need to bring home the bacon. The Wild’s recent slump has seen decent Power Play production, but the defense, and to a further extent the goaltending, really needs to step up in a big way, especially against a light scoring team like Winnipeg over the next two games. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Wild are more talented than the Jets, but the Jets are playing good hockey right now, and the Wild quite frankly, are not.

Line Changes-

So as you can see, the lines have been shaken up a bit, probably mostly in part to a poor showing Tuesday, but also because Jason Zucker has been hit with the flu bug that has ravaged the Wild locker room as of late.  It also appears that the third defensive pairing tonight with Justin Falk and Stu Bickel, much to the chagrin of some Wild fans.

Goaltending Matchup

The Wild will be sticking with Darcy Kuemper again, and after a so-so performance against Philly on Tuesday, Mike Yeo and many Wild fans are hoping the over the break Kuemper somehow got his mind right, and will avoid the unfortunately common home ice meltdown that Kumeper has been doing over the last month. Furthermore, we’re all hoping Kuemper gets back on track in a big way, and starts a second half hot streak, much like he did last year, leading the Wild to the postseason. Time will tell if Kuemper’s head is screwed on straight, but tonight is a big night for him nonetheless, as his leash may be getting tighter by the day.

The Jets are sending out Michael Hutchinson, and though you might be asking who he is, he’s having a fantastic season so far, and is the unlikely NHL leader in Save Percentage (.944) and Goals Allowed Average (1.67) going into the Christmas break. Starting the season as the backup to Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets have been riding the hot hand with Hutchinson more lately, and he’s been great. I’m not sure if they’ll double up on Hutchinson for Monday’s matchup, but if he plays well tonight as he has most of the season, it’s a definite possibility.


There probably isn’t one specific storyline for this game, outside of maybe Kuemper’s play itself, but it’s definitely a huge game in the eyes of many Wild fans. As far as Kuemper goes, a real stinker here could land him in Yeo’s doghouse, and push Niklas Backstrom to the starting role for the time being. However a gem of a game here could really invigorate Wild fans in getting behind Kuemper again, and hopefully signal the turnaround in his season that we’ve all been waiting for over the last month. Either way, the Wild need to improve their goaltending, and it is fairly unlikely that they swing a trade anytime soon, so either Kuemper or Backstrom will have to take the baton and run with it for the Wild to refresh their playoff hopes.

Speaking of Playoff hopes, there are many that call this series with Winnipeg ‘Must Win’ and while that may be over-dramatizing it, it does echo the importance of winning within your division. The Wild’s recent slump has seen them fall down the Central Division rankings, and out of current playoff contention, while teams that missed the playoffs last year like Nashville and Winnipeg have leapfrogged them. If they continue their losing ways this weekend, many fans may start to give up on the dreams of the postseason that they had not too long ago, and that may be something felt in the locker room and front office as well. But if the Wild can somehow start to dig themselves out of the hole that they’re in, they still have loads and loads of time to get their game right, most notably on the Power Play and defensively, to make a serious playoff run.

There wouldn’t have been many people circling this pair of games with Winnipeg on their calendar in the preseason as a huge weekend for the Wild, but it certainly has turned out that way, and hopefully, Christmas has brought them some sharper focus and better play. We’ll find out starting tonight at the Xcel Energy Center.