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From the Rink: Defensive effort key for Wild in Winnipeg

Minnesota has allowed at least four goals in three of its first four games

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Defense will be the focus for the Wild tonight when it faces the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place. It's been an area of concentration in practice all week and it's been talked about by coach Bruce Boudreau.

The Jets can get up and go with just about any team in the League offensively, led by young stars Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. 

Without forwards Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise, and with Mikael Granlund a game-time decision, Minnesota likely can't afford to get into a track meet with Winnipeg.

The good news for the Wild: Playing quality defense not only gives the team its best chance of winning, but can be accomplished no matter who is in the lineup.

"When you're missing skilled players, it's a little more difficult to score so you have to play better defense," Boudreau said. 

Through four games, Minnesota's defensive game has not been as sharp as it needs to be. Three times, the Wild has allowed an opponent to score four goals, with one other team reaching five (Carolina's fifth goal came via the shootout). 

For one of the NHL's stingiest teams last season, and historically, that's simply not good enough. 

"I think if you look at the games, we've played well," said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. "I think we've just had some miscues, and I'd say some uncharacteristic stuff in our end that we're usually extremely sharp at, that's costing us goals that tie the game and in overtime. 

"But if you look at the games as a whole, I think we're playing just fine, especially for the start of the season. We're only going to get better and tighten things up and we know we need to start that tonight."

With a shortened roster much of the week, the Wild spent a good portion of practice time on battle drills and becoming tougher on the puck, two things that could help Minnesota have success tonight.

For Winnipeg, it's been a tale of two teams early in the season.

In three games started by goaltender Steve Mason, the Jets have surrendered 18 goals and are 0-3. In games started by Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg has given up five goals and is 3-0. 

Hellebuyck will be between the posts on Friday, so offense could be at a premium.

That's what Minnesota has prepared all week for.

"This is a team that, year in and year out, has been known way more about their defense than they have about their offense," Boudreau said of his own club. "They took great pride in it. So when you have [three out of four] with four goals against, that's tough."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Marcus Foligno - Eric Staal - Chris Stewart

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund

Tyler Ennis - Matt Cullen - Luke Kunin

Daniel Winnik - Joel Eriksson Ek - Zack Mitchell

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Mike Reilly - Kyle Quincey

Devan Dubnyk

Alex Stalock

JETS

Kyle Connor - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler

Nikolaj Ehlers - Bryan Little - Patrik Laine

Brandon Tanev - Andrew Copp - Joel Armia

Shawn Matthias - Nic Petan - Brendan Lemieux

Josh Morrissey - Jacob Trouba

Toby Enstrom -Dustin Byfuglien

Tucker Poolman - Tyler Myers

Connor Hellebuyck

Steve Mason

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