Wild Weekly: Talbot Shines in 4-Game Road Trip

The Minnesota Wild finished their four games out west with two straight victories versus the Vegas Golden Knights. Despite losing the first two contests in San Jose against the Sharks, the Wild earned five of a possible eight points in the standings. It was a rocky start to the week, but ending it on a high note is a positive sign for the future. The Wild will start this week with their 11-game win streak versus the Colorado Avalanche on the line. It won’t be easy, but their newfound confidence could help push this streak into milestone territory.

Week in Review

At the beginning of last week, the Wild were outside their comfort zone. In their first matchup versus the Sharks, they got off to an early first-period lead but slowly relinquished it as the game progressed. A late goal by Kevin Fiala propelled the game into overtime, but it wasn’t enough. After eight rounds in the shootout, San Jose got the better of the road warriors, 4-3, with help from an Erik Karlsson bomb.

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

Part two of the mini-series didn’t go as swimmingly for the Wild. The game got off to a slow start, but the Sharks took a two-goal lead in the second and never looked back (because Sharks can’t turn their necks). Minnesota made it interesting with a beautiful goal from Kirill Kaprizov and a last-minute push in the third, but again it wasn’t enough. The Wild’s four-game point streak snapped with an unlikely 4-2 loss.

The second half of the road trip finished in Vegas on the end of a back-to-back. This game had a very different feel as both teams understood the importance of the points on the line. The Golden Knights struck first, but Minnesota mustered a response every time Vegas took the lead. It was an intense matchup, but with the help of Cam Talbot and Fiala, the Wild earned two points in the shootout to win 3-2.

The fourth and final game of the spring break road trip went pretty well, all things considered. After going down early in the first, the game stalled as both goalies battled to bail out their teammates. However, a rare power play goal scored by Kaprizov immediately followed by a tally from Joel Eriksson Ek in the third gave Minnesota the advantage. There was still plenty of time left, but the Wild closed out the game in regulation. Overall, earning five points in four games wasn’t a bad outcome. Still, the team doesn’t have that much time to rack up points, so hopefully, they learned from these tough road games.

Takeaways, Notes, and Concerns

Stars Showing Up

It was a rocky few games heading into the trek out west for the Wild’s stars. The week before, Fiala was the only skater among their top 5 with at least three points. This week, however, Minnesota had four skaters (Jordan Greenway, Kaprizov, Eriksson Ek, and Fiala) who registered three points or more. If the Wild want to be considered legitimate contenders, they will need contributions from their best.

Cam Talbot Rocks

The Wild’s biggest offseason free-agent signing continues to pay off big. The veteran netminder started both games versus the Golden Knights and three games during this stretch. Talbot stopped 30 of 32 high-danger shot opportunities and 98 of 104 overall. This was an important performance that helped raise his save percentage (SV%) to .926. It’s been a season of highs and lows for Minnesota, but the one constant through it all has been their goaltending.

Running Into a Buzzsaw

The Wild have won 11 straight games at the Excel Energy Center but might have a tough time extending that streak to 12. They are hoping to get revenge after being embarrassed by the Avs a few weeks ago. This is easier in theory than in practice; Colorado hasn’t lost in regulation since March 8 and won’t want to surrender points to their longtime rival. Still, the Wild have played well recently and have an opportunity to catch the Avalanche off guard on the road.

Standings, Tracker and Injury Update

To start the week, the Wild are just two points back of the Golden Knights for second in the division. Colorado sits at the top of the NHL in points percentage, but Minnesota can make up ground with wins in their next two contests. With the number of games left in this shortened season dwindling, Minnesota can’t afford a loss if they want to finish first overall in the division.

Ian Cole Minnesota Wild
Ian Cole, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

In terms of injuries, things are returning to normal. Zach Parise was removed from the COVID protocol list and is expected to be reinserted into the lineup soon. The Wild recently put Luke Johnson on waivers to, hopefully, reassign him to Iowa. In the meantime, Marcus Foligno is back on the ice and will try to return in the coming weeks. This is huge news and could be the boost the team needs during this late-season playoff push.

The trade deadline is on the horizon, and it’s still unclear what general manager Bill Guerin has planned. The team doesn’t have much cap room, so they would need to offload some salary to make a move. I don’t expect a big deal, but anything is possible. In the most realistic scenario, the front office will move a player like Nick Bjugstad or Marcus Johannson for picks or include them in the trade for what they believe is an upgrade. Don’t anticipate them to take on any term, though, especially with the restricted free agents they already have to sign this offseason while navigating the expansion draft.

Final Thoughts

In general, the week was a net positive and a confidence builder going forward. With Minnesota’s top skaters and goaltending clicking on all cylinders, the team has a chance to start the month of April with a bang. It will be an interesting week in the State of Hockey, with the Frozen Four finishing up alongside the Wild’s late-season playoff push. Whatever happens, the team now knows they can step up their game when facing adversity on the road.

The data in this article got sourced from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.