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Game Day Preview #81, Minnesota Wild @ Los Angeles Kings

Preview: Minnesota Wild (44-26-10) @ Los Angeles Kings (44-28-8)

Game Time: 7:30 PM, FS-W

Tonight’s tilt against the visiting Minnesota Wild isn’t quite as important as we thought it would be just a week ago. The Wild have clinched the third seed in the Central and, at this point, are playing more to learn to adapt to life without Ryan Suter. The Wild can reach 100 points if they win out, which would be the third time in four seasons that they’ve hit that mark, but other than that, tonight is only meaningful in that the Wild would prefer not to go into the playoffs on a losing streak.

For the Kings, bracket positioning is still at stake. Despite currently being in the first Wild Card spot, the Kings are only two points back of second-place San Jose. While clinching last night thanks to Chicago took most of the stress out of the remaining games, the fact is that the Kings’ performance against Minnesota tonight and Dallas on Saturday will determine their seeding fate. Want home ice advantage? Want to avoid the Vegas juggernaut? Maybe you’re aiming to play the Sharks, who have been struggling to close out their season. There aren’t many points separating second in the Pacific from the Wild Cards, so the four points on the table this week actually do have some meaning.

But isn’t it nice to watch a game without feeling like you have to go breathe into a paper bag?

For the Wild tonight, you’ll get the chance to see Jordan Greenway, who was one of a handful of young players to make an impression during the Olympics. While he only got one goal in the tournament, he certainly didn’t look out of place and is an exciting piece of Minnesota’s future. Greenway’s yet to notch his first NHL point in four games played.

On the blue line, the Wild are just trying to get by. Ryan Suter, at the tail end of a bounce-back season, suffered a fractured fibula this week and is out indefinitely. Fellow defenseman Jared Spurgeon is still recovering from a torn hamstring, and Gustav Olofsson, finally becoming more of an NHL regular, is out with an upper body injury. So the defense is looking a little thin past the first pairing of Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba. If there’s anything for the Kings to take advantage of there, it’s the defense.

Of course, the same could be said for the Kings. Derek Forbort is currently week-to-week, and while Jake Muzzin has been skating, he’s not ready to return, either. And while the Kings could pull their defense together in an emotional game against Colorado, Alec Martinez can’t be expected to put in new career highs every night. Drew Doughty can’t be everywhere at all times. Like it or not, Kevin Gravel and Paul LaDue are going to have to carry their own weight until the blue line’s healthy again.

Up front, the only potential change is Alex Iafallo, who’s nearing a return from his upper body injury. The team’s played well in his absence, though, and maybe it’s for the best that they don’t try to rush him back, particularly given that he sometimes seems to be struggling more to adapt to the grind of a full NHL season, compared to the career-high 42 NCAA games he played last year. Giving Iafallo a chance to fully heal, and to mentally and physically reset, would possibly be more advantageous to the team in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Kyle Clifford’s had some of his strongest games in recent memory; he was one of the best forwards in the loss to the Ducks, and he pulled off a magical wrap-around goal against Colorado that I still have a hard time believing actually happened. I’ve been critical of pairing Adrian Kempe, a speedy skilled player, with someone like Clifford, who doesn’t bring much offensive upside, but in this case, I’m glad to have to eat my words. Clifford’s never been an offensive powerhouse, except for maybe his last year of junior hockey, where he was a point-per-game guy. But he’s been a delight to watch lately, when he’s playing with an edge, but also with confidence that he’s more than just a human wrecking ball.

So sit back, relax. Watch a game that means a little, but not a lot. And get ready for the playoffs.



Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Pearson – Kopitar – Brown
Rieder – Carter – Toffoli
Clifford – Kempe – Lewis
Thompson – Amadio – Mitchell

Gravel – Doughty
Martinez – Folin
Phaneuf – LaDue


Minnesota Wild

Parise – Koivu – Granlund
Zucker – Staal – Niederreiter
Greenway – Coyle – Ennis
Foligno – Eriksson-Ek – Winnik

Brodin – Dumba
Seeler – Murphy
Soucy – Prosser


Opposing Preview: Hockey Wilderness

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