Coming off of a surprising season-opening win over the Winnipeg Jets, the Anaheim Ducks are hoping that they can extend this to a winning streak, but in order to do that they will need to take down the Minnesota Wild.
In terms of lineup deployment, I wouldn’t expect too much to change for the Ducks. We’ve yet to find out if Max Jones will be good to go after missing the first game of the season due to a non-COVID-related illness, but if he is, it will be interesting to see what the team decides to do.
You cannot take Mason McTavish out of the lineup after the debut he had, so what will head coach Dallas Eakins do? The answer seems pretty clear: most people would take out Nicolas Deslauriers, but will Eakins actually do that? Could we see Jones remain as a scratch until one of the left-wingers starts to fall off? We’ll see closer to game time tomorrow, but here’s what I would project:
Max Comtois — Ryan Getzlaf — Troy Terry
Adam Henrique — Trevor Zegras — Rickard Rakell
Mason McTavish — Isac Lundestrom — Jakob Silfverberg
Max Jones — Benoit-Olivier Groulx — Derek Grant
Hampus Lindholm — Jamie Drysdale
Cam Fowler — Josh Manson
Greg Pateryn — Kevin Shattenkirk
Last season, the Ducks went 1-5-2 against the Wild, so they’ll definitely be looking to improve upon that in this upcoming game.
The Wild will actually be opening their season against the Ducks, and will be hungry to start it off nicely after a heartbreaking finish to their season last year, where they lost in seven games to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Minnesota is an interesting one, as they are the complete opposite of what the Ducks faced with the Jets. This team is a full shutdown defensive squad, rather than a powerhouse offense. This likely means we can anticipate a less of a workload for John Gibson, but a much harder job for the offense. It’ll be interesting to see how the team responds to playing against one of the top defensive rosters in the NHL.
It’s hard to project what the Wild will deploy in terms of their lineup, as they have yet to play, but I’d expect it to look something like this:
Kirill Kaprizov — Joel Eriksson Ek — Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway — Ryan Hartman — Marcus Foligno
Tyler Pitlick — Frederick Gaudreau — Kevin Fiala
Victor Rask — Nico Sturm — Nick Bjugstad
Alex Goligoski — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Dmitry Kulikov — Jon Merrill
Will the Ducks' offense continue to impress?
This is an interesting one to think about. The Ducks had a great game production-wise against the Jets. They managed to score four goals, with two of them being on the power play, but will it continue? This team was one of the absolute worst in the NHL both at 5-on-5 and special teams offensively last season, so it’s definitely a valid question.
For me personally, I don’t think it will be consistent, but I do think we will see more offensive production from the Ducks this season. With guys like Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale only continuing to mature, and the emergence of McTavish, along with veterans like Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Hampus Lindholm, etc, there are some weapons in Orange County.
Will John Gibson be consistently good?
This is an important question. We all know that John Gibson is among the top goaltenders in the NHL, there’s no doubt about that. However, there have been questions with his consistency, as he can sometimes go on both hot and cold streaks. He was great against Winnipeg, and the key reason that they won the game, but Anaheim will need that from him all season long, including against Minnesota tonight.
If Gibson plays the way he did in the season opener, there is a very good chance the Ducks win, as they’re playing a team that is far less talented offensively than the Jets. Make no mistake about it, Gibson is the most valuable player on this hockey team, and he will need to be on the top of his game if Anaheim wants to go 2-0-0.
Will Dallas Eakins start trusting Trevor Zegras more?
This is an important one. The development of Zegras is so important to the Ducks’ franchise, they cannot afford to mess it up, but unfortunately, that’s what it looks like Dallas Eakins may be doing. He refuses to deploy Zegras in the defensive zone starts, as it seems like he doesn’t trust him to take defensive zone faceoffs, favoring Derek Grant. While obviously there is more familiarity with Grant, he won’t be here for more than three years, while Zegras will, hopefully, be here for the entirety of his career. It’s important to start giving him these opportunities, and there’s no better team to do it against than the Wild.
The Wild are on the weaker side of the offensive game among the NHL, so allowing Zegras to play in the crunch time and in more defensive scenarios is something that the Ducks can afford to do, so look to see if Eakins gives in.
Obviously, the Ducks’ overall track record against the Wild last season doesn’t fare in their favor whatsoever, but both teams look a tad different compared to six months ago. Be prepared to witness the unexpected.