Even after last night, the Wild still have the second best past-10 record in the NHL, having gone 8-2-0 in that span. Only Ottawa has been better, going 8-1-1 thanks in large part to the outstanding performance of rookie netminder Andrew Hammond.
In 66 games played, Minnesota has 36-23-7 record and 79 points, good enough for the top wild card spot in the West. The Wild are just five points back of Chicago, but also just four points ahead of a dangerous Los Angeles Kings club. Wins against New Jersey, Anaheim and St. Louis would go a long way to securing a playoff spot.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 7:00 PM vs New Jersey Devils (FS-N, FS-WI)
Friday 7:00 PM vs Anaheim Ducks (FS-N, FS-WI)
Saturday 7:00 PM @ St. Louis Blues (FS-N)
Game of the Week
Minnesota beat the best team in the league (Nashville) once already this season, and they'll have an opportunity to do so again against the current No. 1 team in the Anaheim Ducks. However, the true test may come in St. Louis against a Blues team that always seems to be the league's biggest Wild bane.
In one game played between these two clubs so far, St. Louis leads with a 3-2 overtime win in St. Paul back on November 29th. Young Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko leads the club with 32 goals, 64 points and a plus-29 rating in 65 games played. Alexander Steen and Jaden Schwartz follow with 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) and 50 points (22 goals, 28 assists), respectively.
On the back end, Kevin Shattenkirk leads all Blues defenders with eight goals, 40 points and a plus-18 rating in 49 games played. He's currently week-to-week following abdominal surgery. With Shattenkirk out, Alex Pietrangelo has been helping St. Louis keep the tempo, so to speak, with six goals, 34 points and a negative-3 rating while averaging 25:15 of ice-time per night through 65 games this season.
In goal, Brian Elliott has performed as well as anticipated going into the season, collecting 21 wins, a 2.16 goals against average, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts.
With Minnesota's new additions (Devan Dubnyk, Sean Bergenheim and former Blues Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold), it will be interesting to see how it handles a potential playoff opponent, particularly a meat grinder like St. Louis.
Key Player of the Week
Minnesota needs Marco Scandella back desperately. Nate Prosser and Leopold are decent (definitely not great) defensemen, and the youngsters like Mathew Dumba and Christian Folin have performed extraordinarily well. But Scandella brings an element to the team no other Wild defenseman does.
Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin are a world class top defensive pairing, but alongside Jared Spurgeon, Scandella gives Wild head coach Mike Yeo one of the best second defensive pairings in the league. At 6'3" and 210-pounds, Minnesota's 2008 second round pick is a beast of a player. With a big body, a bigger shot and great defensive instincts, Scandella is the top-4 defenseman every NHL GM is looking for at the trade deadline to help put their team over the top. He's also the kind of rear guard needed when going to war against the West's bigger-bodied playoff teams like St. Louis and Los Angeles.
In 53 games this season, Scandella leads all Wild defensemen with nine goals, and has chipped in 11 assists for 20 points and a plus-6 rating. He's also been a great puck possession player with a 5-on-5 CF percentage of 51.8% and a 5-on-5 FF percentage of 53%. He's missed the past four games with an undisclosed injury, and Minnesota would dearly like him back with games against Anaheim and St. Louis coming later this week.
Key Opponent of the Week
St. Louis has never been known as an offensive dynamo of a squad, but that's going to change quite quickly if Tarasenko has anything to say about it.
At the tender age of 22, the 2010 16th overall pick has been burning top defensive systems and goaltenders all season long while setting new career highs by the game. As mentioned above, he leads the Blues with 32 goals and 64 points this season. But it's not just the point totals that are making waives, it's the way he skates, dekes, dangles, makes plays and finds ways to score. Watching Tarasenko play is like going to an art museum - he's just that good.
The thing is, his potential has no ceiling. It's not unrealistic to call Tarasenko the greatest young Russian to enter the league since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. What an outstanding young player, and a guy every Wild fan will be watching closely with fear and trepidation on Saturday night.