GDT: Maple Leafs at Wild, 8:00pm (Leafs TV)

GDT: Maple Leafs at Wild, 8:00pm (Leafs TV)

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Photo Credit: Zimbio.com

This is the only season meeting between the two teams with the Leafs holding the all time record of 5-3-0 against the Minnesota Wild. Unfortunately, the Wild have won three out of the last four encounters including the 5-2 victory last season.

Mikko Koivu, the highest paid player on the Wild roster proved to be the difference maker, ending that night with a goal and two assists.

Storyline: Outside Looking In

Both the Wild and the Leafs are in the midst of the playoff race, and both teams are currently on the outside looking in. Needless to say, this is crucial game for both teams in desperate need of points to stay in hunt.

Different Mindsets

The circumstances surrounding these two teams going head to head couldn’t be more different. The Leafs are going into this one on a high of a blowout victory against the Bruins while the Wild are still feeling the ill effects from their last battle at home against Montreal which ended 8-1 in favor of the Canadiens. Does Toronto take a huge victory over Boston as a step towards an amazing final run or will the Wild team redeem itself in front of their home crowd, will they defend their home ice better than they did against Montreal? It will be really interesting to see which of these two motivating factors proves to be the deciding one.

Keys To The Game

PP And Special Teams: Minnesota is a team that excels playing defensive hockey, and although Jacques Lemaire is no longer in town, old habits and his rooting influences are difficult to change. I’ve watched the Wild a fair number of times this season and I can say that most of their wins came by riding very hot powerplay units. They play tight games, they are rarely out of it and they expect their special teams to be the deciding factor. It’s no surprise that, given their recent PP slump (one powerplay goal during their last 16 man advantages) they found themselves outside of the Western Conference playoff race. Leafs PP hasn’t exceeded anyone’s expectations, that’s for sure, with only 3 goals on their last 42 PP chances. Whichever team finds a way to put their foot forward and get an effective PP going is a team with the most chance of winning this tight hockey game.

Responsible Defensive Play : Yes, not turning the puck over is key in any game, but even more so when the teams are this evenly matched. The Wild play a tight checking, physical game with Cal Clutterbuck leading them in the hit category. Most of their roster consists of players who are really good defensive players and are defensively responsible (Mikko Koivu, John Madden, Matt Cullen) so even without a similarity in overall team quality, we could still expect a really clogged up game, with limited number of chances. Hockey is a game of mistakes, but in games like this one, defensive lapses and mental mistakes are even more costly than that cliché states.

James Reimer is expected to start in goal for the Maple Leafs. Niklas Backstrom, who relieved Jose Theodore in that Montreal horror show, is expected to start for the Wild. Backstrom is 6-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his last 10 home starts. His overall numbers for this season include a .920 save percentage and a 2.51 GAA in 46 games played. He’s 21-19-5 on the season.

Previous Meetings

Nov 10, 2009 @TOR TOR 2 MIN 5

Lineup

Per AM 640′s Jonas Siegel:

MacArthur – Grabovski – Kulemin

Lupul – Bozak – Kessel

Kadri – *Boyce – Crabb

Sjostrom – Brent – Brown

Aulie – Phaneuf

Gunnarsson – Schenn

Lashoff – Lebda

* Darryl Boyce did not practice on Monday, but is likely to suit up against the Wild. Mike Komisarek meanwhile, took part in practice after missing the last two games with a groin injury, but is not expected to play.

Hi there, I'm Mislav, a hockey writer from Croatia. My weird hockey journey includes the Maple Leafs Hot Stove, covering the Kontinental Hockey League as a Managing Editor at KHL.hr and doing a piece for the Hockey News that one time. This is me on hockey and stuff in between. Enjoy your stay!

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