Sharks at Wild Preview: Injured Wild not so easy pickings for Sharks

With Dumba out and Koivu and Zucker making returns, a shaky Wild still poses a threat.

It’s been too long since the San Jose Sharks (18-11-5, 3rd Pacific) were really rolling. But fresh off a 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and winning six of their last seven games, the Sharks are in their best stretch of the season so far.

For the Minnesota Wild (17-13-2, 4th Central), after getting off to a slow start, they’ve found consistency in their game for most of the season. December has started out rough for Minnesota, though, and the lose of three key players have made things all the more questionable.

First, captain Mikko Koivu suffered a knee-to-knee collision with the Calgary Flames’ captain Mark Giordano on Dec. 6. His 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) over 27 games are good for sixth on the team, just one point shy of two big names: Eric Staal and Matt Dumba.

The 24-year-old Dumba is the team’s second-highest scoring defenseman, though veteran Ryan Suter is helped in total by his team-leading 22 assists, while Dumba has tripled Suter’s goal count with 12 goals, leading all NHL defensemen in that category. To say that Dumba is vital to the Wild’s success right now is hardly an understatement.

Which makes his injury all the worse for the Wild. Dumba suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in Saturday’s 2-1 loss against the Flames and will be out for at least a week, though with three games in five days, two of them on the road, to close out December, he may miss the rest of the month.

With that news, the Wild will certainly be hoping Jason Zucker is at 100 percent, having missed Saturday’s game due to illness. Zucker is seventh on the team in points with 19 and his 9 goals are ranked fifth. After a few days to rest, he’ll be skating with Koivu and rookie Luke Kunin.

How long can the Sharks keep rolling?

It’s been a roller coaster season so far and the Sharks haven’t been able to keep any kind of streak alive for very long. A change up in the assistant coaching staff seems to have done them some good, but this has also been one of the easier stretches of schedule, both in terms of travel and quality of competition.

It seems fair to ask: is this for real? The Sharks have been overdue for some wins, so maybe it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth — but maybe also prepare for the fall against tougher competition. Minnesota certainly shouldn’t be counted out.

Battle of the bluelines

Dumba’s injury takes away massive firing power from the Minnesota blueline and with Nate Prosser filling in the gap, it’s unlikely that the missing production will be filled in on the back end. Bumping Koivu to the third line with Zucker spreads the Wild’s scoring depth through the lineup. Their defense may be less dangerous, but the forwards are still just as scary as ever.

This may well work to their advantage against the Sharks: Prosser will keep the blueline defensively sound, something they’ll need against the high-shooting volume Sharks. For the team in teal, they won’t necessarily be able to count on the Wild’s defense making mistakes to create offense.

What time is it?

Timo Meier has led the Sharks in scoring over the last seven games with 10 points. He’s third overall on the team for the season with 32 points (18 goals, 14 assists), two points shy of Logan Couture and Brent Burns in three fewer games. He’s three goals and four points away from matching his totals in all of last year.

Meier’s 36-point rookie season was still impressive, but seemed a bit underwhelming compared to expectations. But this season is a full-on break-out year for the 22-year-old, who is showcasing his potential and how important he is to the Sharks as they continue to trend younger and more skilled.

Bold prediction: It’s Timo Time four times. Meier gets a rooster trick against Devan Dubnyk and our old friend Alex Stalock has to sub in. Sharks win 5-1.

Check back here later for tonight’s lines and liveblog!