We're another week into the season, and the Wild still find themselves looking up the standings with a 16-11-1 record and 33 points - three points shy of a four-way tie with Los Angeles, Winnipeg and Calgary for the two available wild card spots in the Western Conference.
This week, Minnesota will play its toughest three games of the season against divisional titans Chicago and Nashville, and the ever threatening team from Beantown. It's honestly been extremely hard for me to even narrow down a single "Game of the Week", but we'll get to that later.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 7:30 PM @ Chicago Blackhawks (FS-N, FS-WI)
Wednesday 7:00 PM vs Boston Bruins (NBCSN)
Saturday 7:00 PM vs Nashville Predators (FS-N)
Game of the Week
There's no question the Preds are a completely different animal under the tutelage of new head coach Peter Laviolette, but our bid for the can't miss "Game of the Week" goes to the mighty Chicago Blackhawks.
Currently leading the division with a 21-9-1 record and 43 points, the 'Hawks have lost just one game in their past 10, and that's with franchise starter Corey Crawford on the shelf due to injury. The duo of Scott Darling and Antti Raanta have stepped in beautifully, leaving many wondering if there could be a goaltending controversy regarding who will back up Crawford when he makes his eventual return. Either one would be solid. Darling has five wins, a 1.97 goals against average and a .937 save percentage in seven starts, while Raanta has four wins, a 1.85 goals against average, a .944 save percentage and one shutouts in six appearances.
Up front, who better to lead Chi-Town in scoring is there than Patrick Kane? The former first overall pick leads the club with 14 goals, 29 points and a plus-6 rating in 31 games. He's kind of been a big deal historically, something Minnesota is looking to quickly put past them in the first meeting between these two clubs since Kane scored the series clinching goal in Game Six of the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals.
Key Player of the Week
After making an illegal hit against the Isles' Brock Nelson late in last Tuesday's game, top-4 defenseman Marco Scandella was forced to watch his team from the press box as they fell 2-1 to San Jose on Thursday, and then rallied for a 4-3 shootout victory against the Coyotes Saturday in Arizona. On Tuesday, Mike Yeo will have a big piece of his blue line back and ready to contribute.
In 24 games this season, Scandella leads all Wild defenders with five goals, while his nine points are tied with defensive partner Jared Spurgeon for second from the blue line. After seasons that saw the former second round pick go back and forth between Minnesota and its minor league affiliate, Scandella has carved out a spot for himself as a reliable shutdown defender. In addition to being defensively responsible, the 6'1" 205-pound rear guard uses his size and grit well, and loves to contribute offensively, whether it's joining the rush or unleashing a cannon from the point.
Chicago, Boston and Nashville all have very talented, very dangerous forwards, and Minnesota would be behind from the get go without a defender like Scandella in the lineup. So, it's easy to see why Yeo's breathing a big sigh of relief right now.