Minnesota Wild Game Preview: vs. Toronto Maple Leafs


After a disappointing loss in Columbus on New Year’s Eve the Minnesota Wild are looking for a win at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. A win would be a nice start to the new year and a month where they’ve fared far better than in December in recent seasons.

The team will be doing a little roster juggling tonight. You’ll remember that the Wild are without top line center Mikael Granlund, which coupled with the team benching Erik Haula for three of the last four games, had required the team to call up forwards Brett Sutter and Tyler Graovac from the Iowa Wild.

Following the team’s loss to Columbus they sent Graovac back to Iowa. That announcement was followed about 24 hours later with the news that Sutter is sick — likely with the stomach virus that is making its way around the team — and that they were recalling Graovac from Iowa.

Graovac may make his way into the lineup if Jason Zucker is unable to play. He’s a question mark as he’s been battling the aforementioned stomach virus. This would be his first game back, but there are questions about conditioning because he’s been off the ice for so long.

Also returning to the lineup for the Wild is Jonas Brodin, who missed the game against Columbus with an injury. He’ll rejoin Ryan Suter on the team’s top defensive pairing.

It briefly looked, before the recall, as though Stu Bickel would find his way into the lineup if Zucker couldn’t go at game time, but the recall of Graovac makes it a certainty that Bickel will be in the press box.

Here are the lines from morning skate:


Another mishmash that sees some movement around the roster. Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine move their way up the depth chart and will play with Thomas Vanek. Vanek and Brodziak has some decent chemistry early in the year and make for an interesting reunion. Brodziak so the majority of his time against Columbus playing wing on the fourth line with Ryan Carter, though he did center a few shifts with Fontaine and Sutter as his wingers.

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As I mentioned before, Zucker moves back into the lineup on the fourth line. I’d guess that’s largely because of questions concerning his conditioning. If he looks good and the conditioning seems ok, I wouldn’t be surprised to see things move around a bit with Zucker climbing onto the second line.

The first and third lines are familiar. Love the third line. There are three players who could use a big game. Haula has had a rough go lately and was benched for it. Nino Niederreiter didn’t have a great night in Columbus and has been taking a lot of heat over his plus/minus and overall defensive play. I’ve seen a few lapses in his defensive play, but it hasn’t been as bad as many have said and using his plus/minus as a metric of how he’s playing is absurd. (Ger Devine wrote a nice piece about Nino’s plus/minus over at Hockey Wilderness. Go read it.)

Darcy Kuemper will be given the net for the Wild. Mike Yeo had said publicly that he hoped Kuemper would be able to “shut his brain off” over the break and come back with some composure. Kuemper’s been given every start that he has been available for since the holiday break — he missed a little time to food poisoning — and he’s been vastly improved. Going into the break he was one of the worst goalies in the NHL at 5-on-5. In the two games since he’s had a 5-on-5 SV% of .979. Sample sizes don’t get much smaller than that, but we’re taking what we can get.


On the Leafs’ side of things, Friday night will be the fourth game of a five-game road trip necessitated by the World Juniors Championships taking over their arena.

Joffrey Lupul will be out of the lineup for the Leafs with a lower body injury.

Wild fans’ least favorite Leaf, Nazem Kadri, is questionable for tonight’s game. He took runs at both Niklas Backstrom and Granlund in a game last year. Incidents which the presence of enforcers on the ice didn’t stop. (In case you’re keeping count at home.)

Jonathan Bernier will get the start in net for the Leafs. He’s posted a .895 SV% at 5-on-5 this year. It’s almost as though he plays for the Wild with those numbers.

Tonight’s game will also see the return of Minnetonka-native Jake Gardiner, who looks like he’s happy to be back in Minnesota for the night.

The Leafs have been up and down all year. They aren’t a great possession team, but have been a powerhouse in segments this season. Right now doesn’t appear to be one of those times though. They’re 2-5-0 over their last seven games, with one of those wins coming in a shootout over the Boston Bruins.

But their mini-slump shouldn’t matter much with the Wild looking equally as poor lately.

The game starts at 7pm CST. You can watch on FS-N or listen in on KFAN / I Heart Radio.


The Iowa Wild take on the Rochester Americans tonight. Get a game preview at Iowawild.com. You can get an audio preview from Joe O’Donnell there as well.

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