We are currently witnessing arguably the best hockey played in Wild franchise history at the moment. Through 59 regular season games, Minnesota has a 31-21-7 record and 69 points, which are good enough for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
However, as I'm sure you all well know, it's been no picnic. Ever since the arrival of Devan Dubnyk, the Wild have transformed from the local District 5 Pee-Wee Ducks, to a club that doesn't know the meaning of the word "defeat".
Since the All-Star Break, Minnesota has been outright dominant, beating teams in the West's playoff picture like Vancouver, Calgary, Chicago and rising clubs like Colorado and Dallas. Even with injuries to key forwards and defensemen, guys have elevated their game. Jordan Schroeder and Justin Fontaine have stepped up beautifully in the absence of guys like Jason Zucker, Ryan Carter and Matt Cooke, while rookies Matt Dumba and Christian Folin have transitioned seamlessly on the blue line with No. 3 defenseman Jared Spurgeon day-to-day with concussion-like symptoms. And in goal, well, Dubnyk is swiftly becoming the most popular netminder in Wild history. When you look at his time with Minnesota, it's quite easy to see why.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 7:00 PM vs Edmonton Oilers (FS-N, FS-WI)
Thursday 7:30 PM @ Nashville Predators (NBCSN)
Saturday 9:00 PM @ Colorado Avalanche (FS-N)
Game of the Week
It's February - almost March - and the Colorado Avalanche have yet to score a goal on Minnesota's goaltenders this season. The Avs are slowly rising in the Central Division, and the Wild are going to have their hands full on Saturday, but the biggest test of the week comes Thursday in Nashville.
The best part about Sunday night's win over Dallas wasn't that it came on Hockey Day in America, or that it came against "the old team". No, it was that it was a win on national television in overwhelming fashion. Minnesota dominated, and it's always hard not to get excited about a Wild win on such a large stage. Thursday night, they'll get another chance to prove themselves in front of a national audience with a showdown with the top team in the NHL - the Predators.
With franchise netminder Pekka Rinne once again healthy, and a traditionally anemic offense infused with top scorers James Neal and rookie Filip Forsberg, Nashville is an impressive 40-13-7 with 87 points in 60 games played. What's worse is an ultra intimidating home record of 25-3-1. Minnesota is 0-1-1 against them so far with both games coming in St. Paul. They're due for a win in Nashville, and it would go a long way towards both building the club's already sky high confidence and padding its current lead on the second wild card spot.
The Preds are led in scoring by Forsberg with 20 goals, 51 points and a plus-20 rating in 60 games. Just behind him is Mike Ribeiro with 12 goals, 50 points and a plus-16 rating, while Neal paces the team in goals with 21 in addition to 34 total points and a plus-19 rating. Mike "Mr. Carey Underwood" Fisher leads the team with six power play goals.
On defense, Shea Weber (14 goals, 28 assists and a plus-20 rating) and defensive partner Roman Josi (10 goals, 32 assists and a plus-17 rating) are tied with 42 points apiece. Finally, Rinne leads all NHL goaltenders with 34 wins, while his 2.01 goals against average and .931 save percentage are second in the league. The 6'5" 204-pound former backup to current Wild backup Niklas Backstrom also has three shutouts on the season. The big goalie has always been a thorn in Minnesota's side, but the Wild hope to return the favor with a giant netminder of their own.
Key Player of the Week
Speaking of giant netminders, until he proves otherwise, Dubnyk remains our most important player of the week.
After reviving his NHL career with Arizona to start the season, the 14th overall pick of the 2004 draft has done far more in 17 games with Minnesota than the previous 19 with the Coyotes. Prior to being traded to the Wild, Dubnyk proved himself a capable (not to mention better) understudy to Mike Smith, posting a 9-5-2 record, a 2.72 goals against average, a .916 save percentage and a shutout with Arizona. Since the trade, his season numbers have skyrocketed to 22 wins, a 2.19 goals against average, a .925 save percentage and six shutouts (all of which are easily career bests) after going 13-2-1 with a 1.64 goals against average, a .936 save percentage and five shutouts with Minnesota.
With three wins, a .936 save percentage and a shutout in four games last week, Wild head coach Mike Yeo will continue to roll with his season-saving stud netminder in the cage for as long as possible. However, with back-to-backs coming as early as next week, and four scheduled next month, one or both of Backstrom or Darcy Kuemper will have to get some playing time in at some point.
Where is a game against Buffalo when you need one?