First off, hot off the press from Wild.com, Minnesota has signed a pair of undrafted collegiate free agents - Vermont goaltender Brody Hoffman and Minnesota State defenseman Zach Palmquist - to entry level deals. While both are unlikely to play with the big club anytime soon, the signing of an NCAA goaltender is nearly unheard of within the Wild organization. Is it an indicator of what the GM thinks of the club's depth at the position?
Minnesota has the next three days off, and a lot can happen in that span. The Wild currently occupy the top wild card spot in the West with a 44-25-7 record and 95 points. One more loss for Dallas, or an overtime loss for Minnesota, and Los Angeles will be the only team standing in Minnesota's way of clinching. That said, just one more win in the next six games should seal the deal.
This Week's Schedule
Thursday 7:00 PM vs New York Rangers (FS-N, FS-WI)
Saturday 6:00 PM vs Detroit Red Wings (FS-N, HNIC)
Game of the Week
Any game against Detroit is always going to be tough, but the reigning Eastern Conference champs are the real deal, and they'll present the biggest challenge of the week. The Rangers, along with the other current division leaders around the league, are one of the first teams to clinch a spot in the 2015 playoff race. While its future may be in doubt, New York's immediate future looks strong, and a deep Cup run looks to be in the cards.
The Rangers lead the Metropolitan Division with a 47-21-7 record and 101 points. Rick Nash leads the club with a league second-best 40 goals, 65 points and a plus-27 rating in 74 games played. Defenseman Keith Yandle leads all Rangers defensemen with five goals and 47 points between New York and the Arizona Coyotes.
In goal, there's hardly a better netminder in the league on a regular basis than King Henrik. Though he has missed time due to a vascular injury - and is currently still recovering from it - Lundqvist has been solid with a 25-12-3 record, a 2.29 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and five shutouts. His backup, Cam Talbot, has been great as well, collecting 20 wins, a 2.21 goals against average, a .926 save percentage and five shutouts in 35 games played.
Key Player of the Week
Mikko Koivu has been outstanding the latter half of the season, and has really put his foot on the gas in Minnesota's current run to the playoffs. Since the club began this turnaround on January 15th, the KapFinn has eight goals, 26 points and a plus-8 rating in 34 games in that span. Koivu has especially turned things around lately with four goals, nine points and a plus-5 rating in his past 10 games, finding great chemistry between hulking power forward Chris Stewart and young sniper Nino Niederreiter.
A real Stanley Cup contender needs a true leader at the helm and, while Minnesota is filled to the brim with quality leaders and former captains, Koivu is the leader the Wild need. Fortunately, after two postseasons with little production from the captain, it looks like the third time could be the charm. But, in order to reach the postseason - which is all but guaranteed to happen - Minnesota needs to keep pressing forward, and it all starts with the man wearing the "C".
Key Opponent of the Week
The Wild have proven they can topple just about any goaltender in the league, so Lundqvist shouldn't be too much for them to handle. However, New York's 40-goal scorer, Nash, will pose a significant threat to Minnesota's defensive corps.
A hulking left winger at 6'4" and 220 pounds, Nash is a bull in a fine china shop with deadly hands. Aside from his rookie campaign, the former first overall pick hasn't failed to score 20 or more goals in each of his 12 seasons between Columbus and New York. He has reached the 30-goal mark eight times, and the 40-goal mark three times. Nash is a competitor, he's not to be messed with and he'll be difficult for the Wild defense to contain. Fortunately for them, he's just one of many top players Minnesota has had to deal with this season. As such, it's just another day at the office.