The Minnesota Wild clinched a playoff berth with a win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. The Wild are just the third team locked into a playoff spot as general manager Bill Guerin continues to build a winning culture. This is the eighth time in nine years that they will make the postseason and are poised to make some noise this season led by Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala.
This is an exciting time for Wild fans and the organization alike because of how different this feels from the previous core of the team that was continually knocked out in the first and second rounds of the postseason.
Week in Review
The Wild’s winning streak has now reached seven games with wins over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday and Wednesday, Los Angeles Kings on Friday, and the Sharks on Saturday. They outscored their opposition 19-8 over the past week, which is impressive, albeit their opposition all on the verge of missing the postseason.
It was once again a classic week for the Wild, as their underlying numbers were subpar. They finished the week with a 41.90 Corsi for percentage (30th), 41.34 expected goals for percentage (28th), and 47.20 scoring chances for percentage (22nd) at 5-on-5 league-wide over the past week. Their 5-on-5 play continues to be a point of concern, especially with the playoffs just a couple of weeks away.
Biggest Takeaways, Notes & Concerns
The man advantage is heating up as of late, which has been a huge relief, as it was once the league’s worst. The Wild went four for nine (44.4%), with three goals coming from Kaprizov and a tally from Marcus Johansson. It will be integral that they sustain this moving forward.
Talbot has been a huge reason why they sit third in the division. He has been a significant upgrade over Devan Dubnyk, which has been a major lift for a team that has lacked above-average goaltending for several years. Talbot saved 3.29 goals above expected, per Evolving-Hockey, which is very impressive. He also posted a .950 save percentage over the three contests this week.
After somewhat struggling in the first half of the season, Fiala has rebounded nicely and is playing like he was at the end of last season. The 24-year-old winger had three goals and three assists in the four games played last week. He continues to showcase his skill with his elite transition and possession game, along with his tantalizing shot.
Kaprizov – the Calder frontrunner who deserves to win – had five goals in four games, including three on the man advantage. He has been unbelievable this season and is the biggest reason why the Wild were the third team to lock down a playoff spot. There is no doubt he will continue this in the postseason.
Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno — known as The GREEF line — were excellent this past week. Greenway had a goal and an assist. Eriksson Ek scored an empty-net goal and tallied three helpers, while Foligno scored twice and had an assist himself. All three have fit quite nicely together, especially with their hard forechecking style of play.
Standings Tracker & Injury Update
The Wild have locked their ticket to the postseason and are currently sitting third in the Honda West Division with 65 points. They are five points back from the Vegas Golden Knights and just a single point back from the Colorado Avalanche, who have two games in hand on the Wild. The fourth and final playoff spot is to be determined, and it will likely be a fight until the end between the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes.
The Wild are nearly healthy, with Nick Bjugstad still sidelined, but there is optimism that he will return here shortly after getting injured in early April.
The Wild continue to win games despite not playing at the level they did in the first half of the season when they were elite at 5-on-5. While you can’t complain about winning games, their game needs to be polished before the playoffs.
Looking ahead to this week, they play three times this week, all against the Blues, who are fighting for their lives to clinch a playoff spot.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Viz)
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.