During the holiday season, many people recognize the Gap as a bland clothing retailer. In hockey, the gap is the neutral-zone space between the attacking forward and defensemen. The forward wants a wide gap, while the defenseman wants to reduce their time and space with the puck.
For the Minnesota Wild, the team’s battle for gap control will be weapon against the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks, currently tied for first in points in the Western Conference, like to get into the offensive zone and use its size to cycle and grind down opponents. Minnesota wants to prevent clean zone entries at the blue line to prevent the Ducks from getting to its forecheck.
“They’re going to want to get into the offensive zone, they’re going to want to get in on the forecheck,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “If we can prevent them from getting pucks behind our D, or at least force them to do it in a position where we can recover and get it out quickly, then that’s a huge plus to us.”
The Wild has seen firsthand how dangerous the Ducks are as a team. In its third game of the season, Minnesota outplayed Anaheim at the Honda Center, but walked away with a loss, 2-1.
The team’s D-corps will have to face the Ducks without its blueline general, Ryan Suter, who was diagnosed with the mumps, for the second-straight game. Suter skated with the team this morning, but will not be in the lineup.
“We all know how good Sutes is and what he brings,” Spurgeon said. “We’re tying to fill-in as well as we can while he’s out.
With Suter out, the club’s defenders in the lineup again will have to carry a heavy load. The team’s blueliners has been skilled not giving opponents time and space through the neutral zone, something it will be challenge with again tonight. The Ducks, of course, are led by two of the premier offensive players in the National Hockey League in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Tracking them between the blue lines and not allowing them to establish an O-zone cycle will relieve pressure and, hopefully, lead to Wild offense.
“Playing in the offensive zone is going to be huge for us and not allowing them to get to their game,” Spurgeon said. “Have a good gap on those guys. They have a lot of skill and they’re big players as well, so keep them from getting in on the forecheck and protecting that puck.”
It won’t all be on the defenseman. Similarly to its 2-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, the Wild’s forwards will have a greater responsibility defensively.
“It’s on the forwards, too,” winger Ryan Carter said. “You’ve got to find ways to spend less time in your own end and limit your turnovers.”
“The forwards do a great job of helping us out and tracking back,” Spurgeon added.
The Wild’s last line of defense will be goaltender Darcy Kuemper. He gets the nod in net and is 1-2-0 with a 2.38 GAA and a .920 SV% in three starts.
Ugly Sweater Night
Speaking of bad clothing, the Minnesota Wild will host Ugly Sweater Night presented by Ragstock at Xcel Energy Center. Fans are encouraged to wear their most grotesque holiday pullovers, cardigans and turtlenecks. Here’s an example of what fans should strive for: