This week’s Check-In had one game that went on as scheduled while two others were postponed due to rising Covid numbers. The Minnesota Wild returned from their road trip after a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, to face the Carolina Hurricanes. That game was postponed when the Hurricanes had numerous positive test results, which left the Wild with a couple of extra days of rest. Following their days off, they played the Buffalo Sabres, which ended in a shootout loss. That left one game against the Florida Panthers last week, but alas, that was also postponed due to positive test results.
The Sabres game left a few fans puzzled. The Wild weren’t at their best from the start, but they didn’t perform horribly either. They jumped out to an early lead but watched it evaporate twice before going to overtime and a shootout. All three of their shooters were unable to get past Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkkonen, while Sabres forward Tage Thompson snuck one past Wild goaltender Cam Talbot for the win. Despite the loss, the Wild had some players step up and, of course, some players took a step back as well.
Wild’s Talbot Runs the Show
Not enough has been said about Talbot this season. He’s done quite well – even if his stats aren’t spectacular. He struggled to keep his save percentage above .915, and his goals-against average (GAA) stayed around 2.00 GAA or above. However, the Wild were getting the wins they needed.
His stats started to improve recently, especially his save percentage until they hit a three-game losing streak. Although in their latest loss, Talbot’s save percentage was a .950, and his goals-against average was 1.85, saving 38 out of 40 shots on net and stood on his head in the third period as well as overtime. He did not deserve the loss and was the main reason the Wild made it to overtime.
Apart from Talbot, a couple of other players deserve to have their names mentioned: defensemen Jon Merrill and Alex Goligoski. While they both managed their defensive duties, they also stepped up offensively. Merrill got the Wild going against the Sabres with the first goal of the game. Kirill Kaprizov scored the Wild’s second goal, assisted by Alex Goligoski. An assist may not seem noteworthy, but it was his 17th of the season and has him tied for 10th among NHL defensemen and tied for 16th in points. These three players stepped up in their one game, but a couple of players struggled as well.
Wild’s Forwards Held Scoreless
Other than Kaprizov, the Wild’s top-scoring forwards were held scoreless against the Sabres. Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Mats Zuccarello didn’t register a point. Even Ryan Hartman, who’s had several scoring streaks this season, scored only one point. But Fiala was more disappointing than the rest. He’s had more points recently, but it’s still been a down season for him.
As for Eriksson Ek and Zuccarello, they’ve had recent scoring streaks, including in losses, but the Sabres kept them under wraps. Even Eriksson Ek peppered Luukkkonen with four shots on goal, and Zuccarello was in the shootout, but they had no luck.
Wild’s Scattered Schedule
With two of their three games postponed last week, there’s been a disturbance in the Wild’s typical routine. The added rest is nice, but sometimes teams are so used to their routine of playing every other day that this delay can cause a bit of trouble in their play. We’ll see how they react when they play the Dallas Stars on the road on Monday.
It’ll be their last game before they pause for the holiday break three days earlier than planned. Their final game was supposed to be at home against the Detroit Red Wings, but the NHL announced it would be postponed. That also means the Wild will have almost a full week off before they play the Winnipeg Jets following the holidays. As of now, that game is expected to be played, but with the current border talk, it’s up in the air. Fans will have to wait and see how the holidays pan out. Following that game, the WIld will participate in the Winter Classic against the St. Louis Blues, a game Minnesota fans have waited nearly two years for. Hopefully, things take a turn for the better following this pause, and everyone will be healthy again.
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Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.