Wild Weekly: A Pair of Series Splits Against Ducks & Sharks

Welcome to this week’s installment of Wild Weekly. The go-to location for weekly recaps of everything you need to know about the Minnesota Wild!

Weekly Recap

The Wild went 2-2 this week to bring their overall record on the young season to 4-2-0. The Wild split both of their two-game sets, the first on the road against the Anaheim Ducks and the second at home against the San Jose Sharks.

Minnesota Wild celebrating
Minnesota Wild celebrating (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Wild showed true resilience this week, battling through frustrating performances and injuries to keep the ball rolling. There is a lot for Dean Evason to be pleased about early on, but also much that still needs to be worked on with the overall play.

Takeaways, Notes, & Concerns

Here we take a look at all the important notes that you need to know about the week that was.

Kevin Fiala

Fiala was the most dynamic forward for the Wild last season. Early on in this season, though, he has struggled to find the scoresheet. It wasn’t from lack of trying; he was firing the puck towards the net a lot but couldn’t seem to get any past the goaltenders.

However, as with many goal scorers, all it takes is one to get the ball rolling. That’s precisely what happened for Fiala, as he was able to get his first of the season on Friday with an empty-net tally against the Sharks. He then earned his second of the season the next game on the powerplay via a beautiful slapshot from the point.

Joel Eriksson Ek

It’s still very early, but Eriksson Ek is off to a tremendous start to this NHL season. His three goals currently lead the team to go along with two assists for five points in six games.

His advanced stats further prove that Eriksson Ek has been one of the most, if not the most, effective players for the Wild in both the offensive and defensive zone. He seems to have found a great spot in the lineup playing alongside Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno, although if he continues to produce offensively as he has, there might be a consideration to move him up in the lineup.

Kaapo Kahkonen

With Cam Talbot going down with an injury (more on that later), Kahkonen has had to step up and be the starter. The 24-year-old netminder started in net on Wednesday’s win over the Ducks, had to come in for relief on Friday against the Sharks, and started on Sunday against the Sharks. More playing time than he likely anticipated this week, but he came through for the Wild.

Kaapo Kahkonen Minnesota Wild
Kaapo Kahkonen, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kahkonen provided steady goaltending and was able to backstop the Wild to victories on Wednesday and Friday. Despite losing on Sunday night, Kahkonen made some huge saves as the Sharks had plenty of high danger scoring chances.

Nick Bonino

The Wild have been a disaster in the faceoff dot. They currently rank 29th in the NHL with a 45% faceoff win percentage. However, it could be dead last in the league if it wasn’t for Bonino.

Bonino has been the one reliable faceoff man for Evason and his staff, currently winning 57.5% of his faceoffs. He can’t take every faceoff for the team, and this is something they need to be practicing more of because chasing the puck so much throughout a game will really hurt them over a full season.

Power Play

The Wild’s powerplay unit has finally gotten on the board a couple of times after starting the season 0-18. Since then, the Wild have gotten their power play percentage up to 7.4%, which, just like their faceoff percentage, is 29th in the NHL.

Wild Make a Trade

Earlier this week, the Wild made a one-for-one trade with the Colorado Avalanche, trading away Greg Pateryn in exchange for Ian Cole.

Ian Cole Colorado Avalanche
Ian Cole, former Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

So far, Cole has been a great fit on the Wild’s bottom pair alongside Carson Soucy.

Standings Tracker and Injury Update

As Sunday night’s games came to a close, every team in the West Division had played six games. The Wild sit at 4-2-0, which is good enough for second place in the division. They only trail the 5-1-0 Vegas Golden Knights.

However, so early on in the season, teams are so bunched together—only five points separate the first place and eighth-place teams in the division. The Wild have put themselves in an excellent spot to start this season, and it will be crucial for them to continue that moving forward. A poor stretch in a 56-game season could be disastrous.

Mats Zuccarello still hasn’t been cleared for practice. The timetable for his return is still currently unknown.

Mats Zuccarello Minnesota Wild
Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Talbot left Friday night’s game against the Sharks with a lower-body injury. (from ‘Wild lose goaltender Cam Talbot in 4-1 win over Sharks,’ Twin Cities Pioneer Press, 01/23/2021) His status is currently day-to-day. Therefore, the Wild recalled goaltender Andrew Hammond to the NHL active roster and reassigned Hunter Jones to the taxi squad.

Final Note

The Wild play four games in six nights this week, two against the Los Angeles Kings and two against the Avalanche. All four of the games will be at Xcel Energy Center as part of a six-game homestand. The Wild’s defense will have to be at the top of their game to shut down the high-powered offense of the Avalanche, led by superstar Nathan MacKinnon.

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