Welcome to this week’s installment of Wild Weekly, which will take a look back at this past week. It will include notes, the biggest takeaways, and, of course, the review of the week.
The Minnesota Wild returned on Tuesday for their first game since Feb. 2 due to a COVID-19 outbreak that was spread amongst the team. It affected many players on the team and there are still players that have yet to return but are projected to do so in the upcoming games. While it was unfortunate, the pause gave the Wild a much-needed break as several players were dealing with injuries. The Wild are now behind in games played, which isn’t the worst thing, either.
The outbreak on the Wild definitely raises questions on how the league can improve their protocols to ensure these situations don’t occur. The league did make several changes right after the Wild’s outbreak was announced including removal of the glass behind the benches, more social distancing and less time at the arenas as well as increased air quality. The Wild’s schedule was also altered due to half a dozen games being postponed.
Week in Review
After finally returning from the outbreak, the Wild played three games last week. They lost 4-0 against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. The Wild definitely looked rusty and it wasn’t the best game, albeit not surprising given the Wild’s situation. Mats Zuccarello made his season debut and looked really good. They made a quick rebound with two big wins against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Wild won 3-1 against the Ducks on Thursday and completed a blowout 5-1 victory on Saturday. They looked really good for not having played since the beginning of the month. The Wild also got their first look at defensive prospect Calen Addison who was the big piece in the package return from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jason Zucker. He was very good in his three-game stint including his NHL debut, but due to players returning, he was sent back down.
Addison, 20, excelled in his NHL debut alongside Ryan Suter. It really displays the confidence the Wild coaching staff and management have in the young smooth-skating defensemen. It will only be a matter of time until he becomes a full-time NHLer given what he just displayed in a few games. While he didn’t register a point, he was a calming presence and did all the little things right.
Even though the Wild’s pair of wins were against the Ducks, it was an impressive rebound with part of the roster still remaining out. In what is considered a transition season for the Wild, they look good despite all the new faces. If they can fix some issues such as the lack of success on the power-play and in the face-off circle among a few other things, the Wild could prove to be a respectable playoff team.
Takeaways, Notes & Concerns
Let’s look at the biggest takeaways, notes, and concerns in the past week. The biggest elements showcased this past week were Zuccarello’s return from injury, Kaprizov continuing to display his speed and skill and an emerging Fiala hot streak.
He finally returned from injury and he has been excellent in his first three games back. The 33-year-old playmaker is on the second year of his five-year contract after an underwhelming first season with the Wild. He has a goal and two assists in three games while averaging just under 15 minutes a night. He definitely looks better already from the eye-test too.
The 23-year-old budding star winger looked good as always. It will definitely be interesting to see Kaprizov play next season with better linemates hopefully. There are many plays where he sets people up for a goal or nice pass but his teammates aren’t ready for it or expecting it. He tallied two assists in the first three games back, too.
The only thing the Wild would like to see more from him is shooting the puck. He tends to pass more than he does utilize his speed to drive to the net or use his tantalizing shot.
Vintage Fiala is back after a slow start to the season. He has three goals and an assist in the past two games. He looks like himself out there and the Wild will need him to continue this as they usually play better as a team when he plays well individually. He looked good a couple of games before the Wild’s pause due to the outbreak, but he was suspended for three games. Fiala, 24, displayed his maturity when he unselfishly passed up a breakaway as the Wild had a 3-on-1 odd-man rush in Saturday night’s game. It ended up not only displaying his team-first mindset, but it proved to be the correct decision as it led to Joel Eriksson Ek having half a net to bury it.
Poor Power Play
The Wild’s power play continues to be a barrier for the team, as they are 1-for-10 since returning from the brief pause. They only have four power-play goals this season despite having over 50 attempts. Something has to change, because it is problematic. The Wild’s 7.7 power-play percentage currently ranks 29th in the NHL.
Another facet of the game the Wild are struggling in this season is the face-off department. However, they were roughly 50-50 this week in this regard which is positive given how poor they have been all season. Aside from Bonino, the Wild are really struggling to get help from the other centers. The Wild’s 47.5 face-off percentage currently ranks 25th in the NHL.
Standings Tracker & Injury Updates
The Wild sit sixth in the Honda West Division with 16 points. They are tied with the Colorado Avalanche with the fewest games played, too. Mats Zuccarello was taken off long-term injured reserve and returned to the lineup. Marcus Johansson missed Saturday night’s game due to a upper-body injury. It is unclear if he will play Monday night.
Looking ahead to this week, the Wild have a relatively light schedule. They play the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, and the Los Angeles Kings on Friday and Saturday night. The Wild will look to build on their two-game winning streak.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.