For the first time in over a month, the Minnesota Wild played back-to-back this past weekend and it was against an opponent they had yet to play this season; the Chicago Blackhawks. Their offense was on fire in the first game when they handed the Blackhawks a 5-1 loss to get back on the winning track.
The second game of the back-to-back was played on Saturday, Jan. 22, and was the final game of Hockey Day Minnesota. A day that is exactly as it sounds, a statewide celebration of the game of hockey with a host city that holds games outside with the local high school and college teams. This year it was held in Mankato, Minnesota.
The finale game that featured the Wild was a fight from beginning to end, the Blackhawks made them work for it every minute. The Blackhawks got out to an early lead but the Wild clawed their way back in, forced overtime and Marcus Foligno scored the game-winner.
Wild’s Power Play Clicked
They had a total of seven power-play opportunities throughout the two games. In the first game, they had two chances but couldn’t convert on either. Despite no points in their first chances, their power play clicked the best it had in a while, they had crisp, clean passes and they took more shots than they had in the past. It showed in their second game when out of five chances, they scored on two of them.
They struggled with their power-play units for some time, it appeared they had the right combinations but the goals didn’t come. They brought Matt Boldy up to the lineup, added him to the second power-play unit and things clicked.
It went so well he was put on the first unit for some time and also did great there. He didn’t score but he had some close opportunities. The Wild’s power-play goals came from Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, who just returned from nearly a month off.
Wild’s Eriksson Ek, Spurgeon & Talbot Return
The Wild were hit hard by injury problems all at once last month. At one time they were without Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Nick Bjugstad, Cam Talbot, Eriksson Ek, and Kaprizov. Those weren’t the only players that were absent from the lineup either, on the COVID list were Jordan Greenway, Alex Goligoski, and Brandon Duhaime.
Thankfully, it didn’t last long, Kaprizov returned just over a week later and jumped onto the scoresheet immediately against the Anaheim Ducks. Greenway, Goligoski, and Duhaime joined the team not long after, while Eriksson Ek was scheduled to return but tested positive for COVID before he could re-enter the lineup.
He made his return in the first game of the back-to-back. The long-awaited return of Spurgeon and Talbot had to wait until the second game. Spurgeon played while Talbot was the backup on the bench.
It wasn’t hard to notice Eriksson Ek and Spurgeon when they made their return to the lineup. The first game for Eriksson Ek was a little slow with just one shot on net, two hits, and a takeaway. In the second game, he showed his dominance with a power-play goal, seven shots on net, four hits, and a blocked shot.
Eriksson Ek may have taken a little longer to get comfortable, Spurgeon didn’t, he tallied two assists, three shots on goal, and one blocked shot in his first game back. The Wild had a number of players return from injury but another was fighting through a non-COVID-related illness as he played.
Wild’s Hartman Perseveres
Ryan Hartman had a rough week, he played Monday in their loss against the Colorado Avalanche, and then at some point over the following days, he caught the stomach flu. He was able to play in their back-to-back but the first game was difficult. His appearance didn’t look the greatest but his play didn’t suffer, it improved.
Despite not feeling well, he scored two goals, had four shots on net, and registered a blocked shot. His goals were his 17th and 18th of the season and it was his eighth multi-point game in 37 games played.
He’s one goal away from tying his career-high of 19 goals from his 2016-17 season with his former team, the Blackhawks. He couldn’t repeat the points performance in the second game, but did have a shot on goal and a blocked shot. Despite the second game, he had a remarkable weekend as he played with the stomach flu and still managed to record points.
Wild’s Schedule Ahead
The Wild started another winning streak by sweeping the Blackhawks in their back-to-back after having three days off. They’ll play again on Monday, Jan. 24, against the Montreal Canadiens. Then they’ll have another three days off before their next game against the New York Rangers.
While the breaks the Wild had due to postponements were good for their injured players to heal, it’ll be an interesting transition to games every other day after not playing for a week at a time. The NHL announced the revised schedule with the postponed games and it’ll be rough. Luckily for them, their team should have everyone back with the exception of Brodin and Bjugstad.
Wild’s Final Issue: Goaltending
It’s unknown the extent of their injuries or when they’ll return to the lineup. But that’s not the only difficult decision they’ll have to deal with. Now that Talbot is back, they’ll have to figure out when to have him play next.
He had been on a losing streak before his injury but prior to that, he had been doing well. Kaapo Kahkonen has been on a hot streak since Talbot’s injury and earned his starting spot. He also made a combined 68 saves in their two recent games and let in a total of four goals. It’s a good problem to have when there are two successful goaltenders, but it’s also hard to pick which should be in the net.
Thankfully for the Wild, both of their goaltenders are used to being under pressure and they’ll need to rely on that as they head into the toughest part of their regular season schedule. Hopefully, these wins over the Blackhawks will give them the momentum they need to continue on the winning path.
Mariah 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.