Wild Check-In: Road to Winter Classic has a Few Bumps to Fix

For the second week in a row, the Minnesota Wild played just one game – another loss. The Wild’s schedule had six games planned in the last two weeks, but they played only half of those. This time last week, the NHL was about to announce they would pause the season to have it resume today following the holiday weekend, but that was pushed back to Tuesday. This had a slightly bigger effect on the Wild because that meant their next game would be the Winter Classic on New Years Day.

They will have gone almost two weeks without a game; thankfully, they’ll have been able to practice but having some games under their belt before the big day would’ve been beneficial. Their last game against the Dallas Stars was a struggle, and there were several things the Wild needed to fix. Rather than work those issues out in both practices and games, they’ll have to settle for practices over the next week. In this week’s Wild Check-In, the players who were successful and those who struggled in their game against the Stars will be discussed, and then it’ll switch to what’s coming later this week with any challenges they may face.

Wild’s Scorers Step Forward

Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman, and Mats Zuccarello were all on the scoresheet against the Stars. Hartman, Fiala, and Kaprizov scored goals, and each had a multi-point game. Hartman and Fiala’s goals got them back into the game and tied with the Stars in a very busy first period. The second period followed the same story when the Stars jumped out to another lead, and the Wild attempted a comeback when Kaprizov scored his single goal of the game.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the third period, the Wild still trailed, and Fiala tried to close the gap with his second goal, but it wasn’t enough, despite all the success the offense had. The good news that came out of this loss is the Wild scorers seemed to have found their way, and hopefully, it’ll keep up despite the long break, and he tallied his first multi-goal game of the season something he’s had trouble with for a while.

Wild Still Have Stragglers

There are some obvious names that could be on this list, but they’ll be talked about more later. The first name on this list is Nick Bjugstad. This isn’t only about having no points in this last game but his lack of points all season. There are times he looked promising but wouldn’t amount to any points. He’s played in 27 games and tallied four points. Last season he played 44 games and recorded 17 points. He’s over halfway to the 44-game mark, but he’s not halfway to 17 points. He’ll need to step up throughout the rest of the season if he wants to stay with the Wild.

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Victor Rask is another player who needs to step up and has shown signs of promise only to have it evaporate away. He’s sat multiple games already this season, but every time he’s come back to play, he’s tallied points. However, the longer he has stayed in the lineup, the fewer points he added. This has shown itself more in the last stretch of games he’s played in. He started strong with points right away, only to trail off the longer he’s had a roster spot. He is on pace to match what he did last season, but he should aim for more, and he has to figure out how to motivate himself without being benched.

Wild’s Winter Classic Issues

A few weeks ago, the Wild looked poised, ready to take on anyone, and the Winter Classic couldn’t come soon enough. With all that has happened in the league the last couple of weeks, the Winter Classic still can’t come soon enough, but the Wild may have some trouble with the recent injuries their team has taken. Defenseman and captain Jared Spurgeon was injured at the end of November and missed eight games before returning to the lineup. He played four more games but was reinjured in their game against the Buffalo Sabres and will now be out indefinitely, meaning he’ll miss the Winter Classic. He’s not the only Wild player that’ll miss out, unfortunately.

After getting a penalty that he disagreed with and having a very heated exchange with the referee about it, Joel Eriksson Ek got onto the ice very upset and was hit awkwardly. He left the game injured, and following the game, he was observed wearing a sling. It’s reported he’ll miss the Winter Classic as well, and it’s unclear how long he’ll be out for. The Wild went from having a full lineup to being without two of their top players in one of the biggest games they’ll play all season.

Being without some of their top players is a big issue, but the Wild also has some other things they need to fix before facing any opponents. This season, they have yet to see their Winter Classic opponent, the St. Louis Blues, other than one game in the preseason. The Blues are doing pretty well themselves and were just one point behind the Wild in the standings as of Sunday evening. The two teams are pretty compatible in many stats categories, including shots on goal that have been a thorn in the Wild’s side for a while now.

That’s the next issue the Wild hopefully will have fixed before the game. They’d been on a trend of having fewer and fewer shots on goal in the last few games. The only bright side about the lack of shots is how many goals they’ve been able to score despite having low shot totals. This stat may suffer even worse now that Eriksson Ek, who has been one of their top shot producers as of late, is out of the lineup.

Joel Eriksson-Ek Minnesota Wild
Joel Eriksson-Ek, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The final issue the Wild needs to address is the number of penalties they have taken. They’re currently third in the league for most penalty minutes, and that is one stat they’d rather not be in the top of the league with. Lately, they’ve been taking penalties out of frustration, which hurt their penalty kill. The Blues, on the other hand, is a team that has taken considerably fewer penalties than the Wild. They also have one of the best power play percentages in the league, something the Wild will have to watch out for if they take any penalties.

Wild’s Schedule

As stated earlier, the Wild have played only one game a week the last two weeks in a row, and this week will be no different. Their first game of the week against the Winnipeg Jets has been postponed, leaving the Winter Classic on Saturday night. Following the third straight week of just one game, they’ll hopefully be back to a normal week of multiple games.

January will be a month of firsts for the Wild as most of the teams they’ll face will be for the first time this season. That list includes teams like the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadians, and the New York Rangers. They will need to make sure all of their issues are fixed before the Winter Classic and the games that’ll follow. The next Check-In will feature the one game of the week, the Winter Classic that hopefully comes out as a Wild win, and more about their upcoming schedule.

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