When the Wild plays Winnipeg on Tuesday, its lineup will feature one addition and one substitution. Forward Nino Niederreiter will be back after missing six games because of a sprained left ankle. Alex Stalock will start in goal, giving Devan Dubnyk a rest on the fourth game of the six-game homestand.
Niederreiter has been itching to get back in for several days. He wanted to play last Saturday against Pittsburgh, but team doctors chose to hold him out a little longer. The ankle isn’t good as new yet; Niederreiter has been told it’s going to take some time before he doesn’t feel any discomfort. But it’s strong enough, he believes, to play for the first time since Oct. 12.
“It’s definitely going to be a big test for myself, just feeling the trust that it’s strong enough,’’ said Niederreiter, who did not score a point in three games before his injury. “I think (the doctor) is happy with how things are going, so I’m happy to be back.’’
Stalock will get his third start of the season. He has outstanding numbers against Winnipeg: a 3-0-0 record, 0.73 goals-against average, .967 save percentage and two shutouts. But he hasn’t played the Jets since the 2015-16 season, when he was with San Jose, and dismissed the stats as irrelevant.
“It’s good to know, I guess,’’ he said. “But throw that out the window. Maybe it’s just worked out that way.’’
This season, Stalock is 1-0-1 with a GAA of 2.90 and save percentage of .924. Coach Bruce Boudreau said before the season that a key for the Wild would be to keep Dubnyk fresh, and he’s been very pleased with what he’s seen from Stalock.
“The players have a lot of faith when he goes in,’’ Boudreau said. “So far, he’s been really good in tough situations. In Calgary, he was really good and won us the game; in Carolina, he gave us a chance, as we weren’t very good and lost in a shootout. So it would be nice if our players played really good in front of him one night.’’
The Wild, which lost 4-3 at Winnipeg 11 days ago, could have its hands full with Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. He’s been outstanding, with no losses in regulation (5-0-1), and his stats rank among the NHL’s best. Hellebuyck is sixth in the league in GAA (2.05) and fifth in save percentage (.937).
Boudreau said he expects “a chess match’’ between two teams that know each other well. Stalock noted the Jets’ depth; in addition to big producers such as Blake Wheeler (12 points), Mark Scheifele (11 points), Nikolaj Ehlers (six goals) and Patrik Laine (four goals), the third and fourth lines have begun clicking recently.
“They’ve got weapons,’’ Stalock said. “You look at the young skill they have and the veterans they have, they can all put the puck in the net. And you can’t forget about their back end, the way they can shoot the puck.
“It’s going to be a good test tonight. But I think the way (the Wild) is going right now, it’s going to be a great game, and hopefully it will end up on the right side.’’