Just about the best part of last week was yesterday's outdoor practice, which is the closest Minnesota will ever come to hosting a Winter Classic...we're only partially joking, of course. Moving on.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 6:00 PM vs Philadelphia Flyers (FS-N+)
Saturday 6:00 PM vs Winnipeg Jets (FSN, CITY)
Game of the Week
There's no question the biggest game of the week will involve the Blue and White army coming from north of the border. With a 17-10-7 record and 41 points, the Jets sit just three points back of the Central Division's third place Nashville Predators, and currently hold the top wild card spot in the West.
Heading into tomorrow night's matchup with the "Broad Street Bullies", the Wild sit a good deal further back with 35 points, five shy of the defending Stanley Cup champs who currently occupy the second wild card spot. It's easy to see why this might as well be a playoff game, because the Jets' prospects of making the playoffs for the first time since being relocated look quite decent while the Wild could be headed for a top-10 pick if they're not careful.
Winnipeg is led in scoring by captain Andrew Ladd (11 goals, 23 points) and Blake Wheeler (nine goals, 23 points), while Bryan Little leads all Jets goal scorers with 12 biscuits. On the bright side (for Wild fans, though we wish no one injury) all four of Winnipeg's top four defensemen - Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart - are out with injuries. However, men in the masks have been pretty solid. Starter Ondrej Pavelec has 10 wins, a 2.34 goals against average, a .913 save percentage and a shutout. His backup - rookie Michael Hutchinson - has been even better with seven wins, a 1.73 goals against average, a .940 save percentage and a shutout.
The Jets' blue line may be black and blue (sweaters aside), but this is still far from a picnic, especially for Minnesota.
Key Player of the Week
Believe it or not, I've got to with rugged grinding winger Matt Cooke. After missing seven and a half weeks with an injury, Cooke made his return to Minnesota's lineup in Saturday night's 6-5 overtime loss to the Preds. He was scoreless with a negative-1 rating, but chipped in two hits and four blocked shots.
A guy like Cooke isn't going to be a high octane point scorer, but he provides the sandpaper-like edge the club needs and is a valued penalty killer. Plus, he does have two goals, six points and a plus-4 rating in nine games this season. The Wild are 4-3-3 in their past 10 games. It's not pretty, and it's not acceptable. Will the return of Cooke make things any better? Good gracious, let's hope so.