Though there's still a long way to go yet, It's hard not to be at least a little encouraged after a very successful week by Minnesota against their one-time Northwest Division rivals of yesteryear. Now, will they be able to continue that success against arguably their top two newest rivals in the next few days?
The Wild gained six points last week, but still occupy the Central Division's cellar with 52 points, but are just one point behind both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars who have 53 each. Past them, things get interesting as the defending champs in Los Angeles have just 54 points and are 2-4-4 in their past 10 games. Other interesting trends are a three-game losing streak by the West's top wild card Jets and a rather bland 5-5 past-10 record by the Central's third seed Blackhawks. These teams bleed, and Minnesota has a chance to prove it this week with a pair of four-point games.
We have a chance here, folks.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 7:00 PM vs Chicago Blackhawks (NBCSN)
Saturday 7:00 PM vs Colorado Avalanche (FS-N)
Game of the Week
It could be argued that without a win against Chicago, it could be difficult for Minnesota to even have the chance to leapfrog the Avs in the standings even if they pull it out in regulation on Saturday. However, the Wild are unlikely to catch the 'Hawks and have a big opportunity to overtake both Colorado and/or Dallas this week. That said, a rematch with the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinal opponent is your game of the week.
Colorado is led in point scoring by Alex Tanguay with 13 goals, 34 points and a plus-4 rating in 48 games played. His former Calgary Flames teammate, Jarome Iginla, leads the club with 16 goals and one less point than Tanguay through 50 games. On the back end, Tyson Barrie has been a stud with four goals and 29 points, while Erik Johnson leads all Colorado rear guards in goal scoring with a very impressive 12.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has been the man, and has done a solid job when compared to the defensive corps in front on him. Through 30 appearances, the Russian has a 13-10-7 record, a 2.62 goals against average, a very respectable .922 save percentage and four shutouts. He's never an easy guy to play against, and Saturday will likely be no different.
Key Player of the Week
Without a doubt, it's Mikael Granlund. Sure, it's easy to see renewed confidence in goaltending has played a big role in the boost to team moral, but the return of Minnesota's top line center has played a major role, as well.
In three games since returning from a broken wrist, the young Finn has two assists, a plus-3 rating, two penalty minutes and five shots on goal. But the best part is that his confidence in his play - in how well his smaller frame will hold up in ultra physical situations - hasn't left. Granlund is still blocking shots, he's still throwing hits and he's not afraid to take one in order to make a play. And he's still giving out his trademark legendary passes and saucers, too!
Granlund hasn't scored much this season, but just his presence in the lineup and on the ice gives head coach Mike Yeo a rare weapon the club has lacked this year - confidence. For more on Granlund, check out one of my latest pieces for Wild Xtra.