Wild Check-In: Fiala & Pitlick Shine, Defense Falters in Winter Classic

This week’s Check-In features only one game for the third week in a row, but it was one of the biggest in the NHL this season. The 2022 Winter Classic between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues went off without a hitch other than the bitter cold, and fans embraced it and showed their inner Minnesotan. Unfortunately, the game didn’t go as planned for the Wild. The Blues controlled the first and second periods before Minnesota figured things out in the third. Once they got their game going, they ran out of time before they could complete the comeback and dropped the game 6-4. They also lost their starting goaltender, Cam Talbot, for an unknown amount of time. The game didn’t go in the Wild’s favor, with players who struggled while others succeeded.

Wild’s Power Forwards Find the Net

Even with the absence of Joel Eriksson Ek due to injury, the Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman, and Kevin Fiala all continued their point streaks in the loss. Kaprizov and Hartman have been fairly successful all season, while Fiala has been snake bitten until the last few games and had issues with his all-around game, apart from assists. In the Winter Classic, he reminded us how good he can be; he dominated offensively and made a smart choice on defense when he broke his stick. Fiala went to leave the ice, but when he realized the Blues were on an odd-man rush, he got back into the play. He was one of the Wild’s best players on the ice.

Kevin Fiala Minnesota Wild
Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Rem Pitlick also deserves to be mentioned. He’s been in and out of the lineup for various reasons, but he made it count in his most recent game. He scored an odd goal after ricocheting the puck off goaltender Jordan Binnington’s stick and then his mask. His goal gave the Wild the hope they needed to come out and have a strong third after falling behind by four.

Wild’s Defense Collapse

Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin’s absence from the lineup showed how much the rest of the team relies on them, and the defense has struggled as a whole in the last week. Matt Dumba, Alex Goligoski, Jordie Benn, Jon Merrill, Dmitry Kulikov, and Calen Addison seemed completely off-track and out of position. The team had seven giveaways, but the defense was responsible for four of them.

Related: Wild’s Struggles Continue, as They Fall to Blues in Winter Classic

Talbot also struggled. It wasn’t his fault, but he seemed a little off, and both his save percentage (SV%) and goals-against average (GAA) took a hit. Before the Winter Classic, he had a .914 SV% and a 2.83 GAA. After the game, those stats fell to .909 SV% and 3.00 GAA. He suffered a lower-body injury at some point in the second period, and it’s still unclear when he’ll return.

This injury could break the team. The Wild are already without Spurgeon and Eriksson Ek. Adding their starting goaltender, who they’ve relied on all season, to the injured list could be catastrophic. Their backup Kaapo Kahkonen is steady but has only played eight games this season with a 4-2-1 record. Hopefully, he can help spark a winning streak by helping his team when they need it most.

Wild’s Week Ahead

For the fourth straight week, the Wild had a game postponed. This week it was because of Canada’s current COVID restrictions, which postponed the Monday, Jan. 3 game against the Ottawa Senators. However, they’ll play the Boston Bruins on Thursday in Boston and then head back to Minnesota to face Alexander Ovechkin and Minnesota hero T.J. Oshie with the Washington Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Brodin should return to the lineup by Thursday, which will hopefully help the Wild’s defense regroup and figure out what went wrong against the Blues. It will be the first meeting of the season against both clubs – the Bruins have struggled recently while the Capitals are doing very well. The Wild will also need a backup for Kaapo Kahkonen, depending on Talbot’s status. This will be a make-or-break moment for Kahkonen with a shot at the starting spot as we eagerly wait for Thursday to see if the Wild can rebound.

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