Minnesota has a new top line


The Minnesota Wild’s forward lines have been in a blender this season. In juxtaposition to the steady blue line, it appears that head coach Dean Evason stands in front of a whiteboard and jumbles up the 12 available forwards by complete random order. . That hypothetical decision making process might soon be over, as the Wild are debuting a new top line to face the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala have barely been on the ice at the same time in a Wild uniform. Since the start of the 2018-19 season—even before Fiala was acquired—the three forwards have played a total of 22.22 TOI at 5-on-5. Despite the unfamiliarity, this line has all the makings of a dominant forward line that can eventually lead to results. . The rise of Jordan Greenway into a solid top-six player on this team is welcomed with wide open arms, as questions started to arise late last season on his ability to keep up through a full season. Right now, it seems like his work in the off-season has been working off; the 23-year-old stands tied as the Wild’s leading scorer with Kirill Kaprizov with 11 points. . As the premier player to go get the pucks for the forwards, matching that with the team’s two top goalscorers just seems like an easy decision to load up and see what happens. Both Eriksson Ek and Fiala sit with six goals, which might only increase considering Greenway leads the team in assists with nine. . With Mats Zuccarello fully recovered from his off-season arm surgery and Ryan Hartman making his jump up into the top-nine forward group, there can be some more leniency and selfishness for Evason to decide who is going to play the most. Instead of trying to balance the lines with skill, loading up the top with this balance of physicality, defensive reliability, and pure ability to put the puck in the back of the net, seems like something that should be able to continue. . If this means that we might finally see some stability within the forward lines—until the trade deadline at least—then this makes me so damn happy. This kicks absolute ass.

PREVIEW. Miami Heat’s visit to Oklahoma City Thunder will complete bonding road trip

The Miami Heat’s turnaround started a bit before their current seven-game road trip. . But heading into the trip finale against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night in Oklahoma City, Heat players, as well as head coach Erik Spoelstra, say the road journey has been a turning point. “When we’re at home we can’t really see each other,” Bam Adebayo said. “We’re in the hotel now, we’re traveling together on the plane, getting to talk to one another and really getting that cohesive brotherhood again that we had last year. It’s great for us and we just got to keep building from here. The Heat are 3-3 on the trip, including victories in their last two games. The trip is tied for the longest in franchise history. . Since starting 7-14, Miami is 6-3 to improve to 13-17. . And the Heat have done it while dealing with a variety of injuries. “I think, without a doubt, this is one of the best segments of the season for us,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve made big strides I think in the last eight, nine days of this trip and we’ve dealt with some adversity together. I think that’s always good for our group.”. While the Heat are still working through those injuries, the Thunder are starting to get healthy after a series of injuries that left Oklahoma City without an active point guard for several games. . Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off the best of his three games since his return from missing four consecutive contests with a left knee sprain. . Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points and had nine assists in Sunday’s victory at Cleveland. . The return of Gilgeous-Alexander and backup point guard Theo Maledon, who has recently moved into the starting lineup alongside Gilgeous-Alexander, has helped the Thunder become more efficient. “Transition offense is the big weapon that we have with the guards that we have that are so aggressive getting downhill and putting pressure on,” center Mike Muscala said. “Then you’re getting free throws, which adds to that efficiency, and getting layups and dunks and then you’re getting 3-point shots.”. . Oklahoma City has averaged 25 free-throw attempts per game over their last four, nearly five per game better than its season average. . The Thunder are still trying to translate that aggressiveness into victories. Oklahoma City dropped six of its last eight. . In their first meeting between the teams, Jan. 4 at Miami, the Heat dominated in a 118-90 win with a balanced scoring effort. Adebayo had 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Oklahoma City shot just 36.7 percent from the field. . The Thunder’s bench, which scored 42 points in Sunday’s win, shot just 31.4 percent in the previous meeting. The Heat are likely to be without Goran Dragic once again, but the guard figures to return soon after missing the last eight games with a sprained left ankle. Dragic has played in just three games since Jan. 25. . Miami could be without Tyler Herro as well. . Herro is listed as questionable after not playing in the second half of Saturday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers following a right hip contusion.