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Off the Post: Winter Classic preview

There’s nothing better than waking up on New Year’s Day, ready to accomplish your resolutions of productivity and self-improvement, to then sit on the couch and watch three hours of hockey in the Winter Classic. I, for one, without fail, do exactly that every year. 

The 2022 edition of the outdoor event will take place at Target Field in Minneapolis. Usually home turf of the Minnesota Twins, the baseball stadium will be transformed to host the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild as they ring in the New Year.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

The Winter Classic is an exciting spectacle for players and fans alike. They’re going old school, back to the roots of where it all began — outdoor rinks. With nostalgic vintage jerseys to sport and thousands in the stands bundled in jackets upon jackets with hot cocoa in hand, the Jan. 1 exhibition is the perfect winter event. 

The Blues and the Wild have yet to meet in a regular-season game thus far, so the Winter Classic will mark their first matchup of the 2021-22 campaign. Minnesota not only has the home-ice advantage, but they also sit seven points atop St. Louis in the NHL standings. 

Tied for fourth-most points in the league with the New York Rangers, the Wild have had a productive start to their season. Riding a seven-game win streak, the group has collected 16 points in the last three weeks and solidified themselves as the powerhouse of the Central Division. 

Left-wing Kirill Kaprizov fronts his squad with 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) during his sophomore season. He’s dominant in all three zones and has been a key playmaker for the Wild, just six assists behind league leader Connor McDavid. 

The Wild also has some solid character players, namely Mats Zuccarello. Perhaps I’m biased because my 15-pound Norfolk terrier is named Zucc after him, but the veteran right-winger brings a boatload of experience, personality and talent on and off the ice. He’s third in points on the roster and has become a core part of the team since arriving in The State of Hockey in 2019. 

Between the pipes, Cam Talbot has started 19 of Minnesota’s 25 games played. Garnering a .919 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average, the goaltender has put together some consistent hockey. It’s a fair guess that he’ll get the nod for the Winter Classic, as Talbot has proven himself to be their go-to guy this year. 

On the other side of the rink, the St. Louis Blues have seen a drop-off in their play after starting the season as one of the four teams to go undefeated in their opening five competitions. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, the group has lacked true consistency, getting swept in the first round of the 2020-21 playoffs. 

Nonetheless, they’re home to some of the league’s top players and, as a whole, know-how and what it takes to produce winning hockey. Center Jordan Kyrou has accumulated a team-high of 23 points (9g, 14a) for the Blues and has three points in the last five games. 

St. Louis has had a spotty roster recently with several guys battling injury, and most recently, starting goaltender Jordan Binnington was placed in COVID-19 protocol. Before his absence, Binnington posted a .912 save percentage and 2.80 goals-against-average. Netminder Ville Husso has stepped up in the crease for the Blues in the meantime.

Although slightly separated in the statistical standings, the Wild and the Blues are two top-tier hockey clubs that will no doubt put on an entertaining performance to start 2022. Each team has close to 10 games to play before they meet at Target Field as they look to finish out the year on a high note. 

The puck will drop at 6 p.m. CT and 7 p.m. ET in Minnesota on Jan. 1. TNT will claim the main coverage of the event — it’s not one to miss!

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