After several games against the Eastern Conference, the Minnesota Wild appear to be close to getting back to the regular diet of Western Conference opponents. Of the team's three games this week, two are against divisional rivals, and victories in those would go a long way in carrying Minnesota forward in the standings. Speaking of those, the Wild currently sits fourth in the Central (top wild card spot in the West) with 52 points. Nashville and Colorado are both next with 45 - though the Preds do have a game in hand on the Avs - while Winnipeg brings up the rear with 41. Barring the wheels falling completely off the wagon (this is Minnesota after all), Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary and Edmonton are no longer of much concern to the team's playoff hopes.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday, January 12th - Minnesota Wild vs Buffalo Sabres 7:00 PM CT (FS-N+)
Friday, January 15th - Minnesota Wild vs Winnipeg Jets 7:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Saturday, January 16th - Minnesota Wild @ Nashville Predators 7:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Game of the Week
The Winnipeg Jets or Nashville Predators - it's a tough one, but the first clash with the Central's newest franchise No. 1 center, Nashville's Ryan Johansen, is just too big to ignore. The Preds are also closer to the Wild in the standings, which will make Saturday's showdown a high stakes affair.
Key Player of the Week
With Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher rumored to be in the mix for a young No. 1 center, one would have to think Mikael Granlund is feeling the heat.
Granny is technically on pace for the best season of his career (eight goals, 48 points), but that's if he stays healthy and keeps up his current pace. Realistically, however, it falls well short of the 0.65 points-per-game pace he set in 2013-14 (eight goals, 41 points in 63 games played). The Finn's Corsi (50.4%) and Fenwick (50.9%) numbers are both better than those posted in his first two seasons of play, but that's mainly due to the percentage of offensive zone starts he has received compared to those in the defensive zone.
In other words, Granlund has been given every opportunity to succeed - the best line mates, ideal face-off situations - but he just hasn't been able to take the ball and roll with it. It's too soon to call him a bust. At worst, he's a decent NHLer and a heckuva player on the European and world stage. However, the time has come for Minnesota to look elsewhere for the franchise No. 1 pivot of the future. That said, the Wild still expect big things from Granny in the meantime. Here's hoping he can deliver.
Key Opponent of the Week
A change of scenery was in order for former Columbus Blue Jacket Johansen, and he's found it in the form of a perennial playoff contender in Nashville. The days of healthy scratches, and being the focus John Tortorella's ire, are over, and now the 2010 fourth overall pick is in prime position to thrive for many years to come while centering the Predators' top line.
Johansen had six goals, 26 points and a negative-4 rating in 38 games with Columbus this season, but early signs look positive as he has a goal, two points, a plus-1 rating and five shots on goal in two games with Nashville since being traded for Seth Jones. With Filip Forsberg and James Neal as potential line mates, Roman Josi and Shea Weber on the back end, and Pekka Rinne in goal, it's hard not to imagine Johansen thriving there. Regardless, I'm sure he'll look to bounce back from the poor effort off the face-off directly leading to Granlund's empty net goal Tuesday night in Columbus.