The Minnesota Wild entered this past week on a roll, and, despite stumbling on the road with a 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, they continue to impress. After a 3-2 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Xcel Energy Center ice on Tuesday, the Wild prevailed in a roller coaster, back-and-forth offensive explosion in a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night heading into this weekend’s action.
Since their 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Wild’s home opener, they have now managed points in 11 straight home games dating back to their second home game of the season on Oct. 20. The Wild are now 8-0-3 since that loss to the Penguins, and, entering Tuesday’s game, were averaging 3.70 goals per game at home. The defense has responded as well, allowing just 2.20 goals against per game since the home opener. The club’s 11.9 percent home shooting percentage ranks second in the league.
Eric Staal has paced the offense for the Wild at home with 12 points in 12 home games this season, followed by Zach Parise with nine points. But it’s been the power play that has been the difference-maker for the Wild on home ice, converting 32.3 percent of their home man advantages, trailing just the Oilers and the Tampa Bay Lighting in that category.
After a collision with a linesman during the game against the Ducks, Staal was listed as a game-time decision for the Wild. He made it through the morning workout without issue and was back in the lineup against the Oilers.
“I had a few of those before and it just kind of shoots down your limbs a little bit and your arm, and it’s kind of a scary feeling,” Staal said. “Didn’t really subside a lot till a lot later than it had in the past. But we took the right steps and I was fine to go today.”
Edmonton rallied in the third when Gaetan Haas and Connor McDavid scored just two minutes apart to make the score 4-4. Then, with 4:47 remaining, Staal stepped up, finding the back of the Oilers net with the go-ahead tally. Luke Kunin added another goal and the Wild left the ice with a 6-5 win.
“He’s been a big-time player his whole life, so these are things that I expect,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of his top-line center, Staal.
Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway, Jason Zucker and Marcus Foligno all added goals for the Wild, with Donato tallying in his third-straight game. In net, rookie netminder Kaapo Kahkonen remained unbeaten in his four career starts, making 28 saves for the Wild who now have 13 points in the last 14 games.
What a Month
Since Nov. 14, the Wild have tallied 20 points, which is tied for the most in the NHL during that stretch. At that time, Minnesota was at 6-11-1 and at the bottom of the standings. Despite taking the ice without goaltender Devan Dubnyk and now skating without captain Mikko Koivu for the past three games, they have managed to thrive.
“I just think, I don’t know what it is right now, but we feel it,” Kunin said of the Wild’s recent surge. “We don’t get too high, too low. We know we can win these kind of games. There’s no panic there on the bench. That’s a big positive when you see that out of your group.”
A Look at This Week…
The Wild will have a chance to continue their home success this weekend, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night before taking to the road for a Sunday evening matchup in Chicago against the Blackhawks. They then head west to take on the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday and the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.
Saturday, Dec. 14 vs. Flyers
The Wild will be welcoming a Philadelphia Flyers team that is also on a bit of a roll in winning six of their last eight games, but that lost in their last game to the Colorado Avalanche.
Offensively the Flyers are averaging 3.03 goals per game (G/GP) on the season, but in their last six games have been scoring at a 3.66 G/GP clip which includes a lone-goal game against the Avalanche.
The Wild may benefit from the absence of Flyers’ leading scorer Travis Konecny (11 goals, 17 assists), who is likely to miss tonight’s game due to a concussion.
PREDICTION: Wild 3, Flyers 1
Sunday, Dec. 15 @ Blackhawks
The Blackhawks had shown signs of life earlier in November, but have recently returned to their early-season struggles. They enter the weekend after a 5-2 loss to the Coyotes on the road, which was their second loss to the Yotes in four days. The loss was their third in a row, and ninth in their last 12 games.
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Averaging just 2.0 G/GP in their last 10 games, the Blackhawks have fallen to the bottom of the Central Division and are showing few signs of doing any better. While the Blackhawks have not been much of a threat on the offensive end, they are strong in goal with the tandem of Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner, despite the win-loss records. Crawford is 6-10 with a 3.02 goals-against average (GAA) while Lehner is also 6-10 with a 2.86 GAA on the year.
The losses of Duncan Keith, Calvin de Haan and Andrew Shaw, all on injured reserve, have caused the developing Blackhawks defense to continue to struggle. The Wild should have little problem keeping the puck in the offensive zone most of the night.
PREDICTION: Wild 3, Blackhawks 0
Tuesday, Dec. 17 @ Golden Knights
With a 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night, the Golden Knights are now 17-13-5 and are currently in fourth in the Pacific Division.
Leading the Golden Knights offense is Max Pacioretty with 30 points, and with Reilly Smith is tied for the team lead in goals with 13. The Wild will need to find a way to get around either of the Golden Knights goalkeepers, who are both strong in net. Marc-Andre Fleury has a 2.54 goals-against average with a 12-7-2 record, including two shutouts. Backup netminder Malcolm Subban is also solid, boasting a 2.96 GAA.
PREDICTION: Golden Knights 3, Wild 1
Thursday, Dec. 19 @ Coyotes
The Coyotes have won two of their last three games this past week, but both wins were against the struggling Blackhawks. Prior to their loss to the Flames on Thursday, they had won three of their last five games and are currently in first place in the Pacific Division with a 19-11-4 record and 42 points.
The Wild will need to find an answer to Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper, who has had much to do with the Coyotes’ success thus far. Kuemper currently boasts a 1.97 goals-against average, the best in the NHL.
PREDICTION: Coyotes 4, Wild 1
Scott brings several years of local hockey coverage with the Kankakee Daily Journal to the Hockey Writers, along with coverage of NCAA Hockey, Softball, Basketball, and Soccer with HEROSports. He is also a regular contributor to FloSoftball and Coach & Athletic Director Magazine.