The Minnesota Wild find themselves in an awkward position in the league standings. With 23 wins and 54 points in 48 games, the club sits one point back of Colorado in the second and final wild card spot in the West. Nashville and Vancouver are just behind with 52 and 51 points, respectively, while an improved team in Anaheim has ridden a 6-3-1 past-10 record to a considerably close 45 points. This is dangerous territory, and it's not going to get any easier from here.
This Week's Schedule
Monday, January 25th - Minnesota Wild vs Arizona Coyotes 7:30 PM CT (FS-N+, FS-WI)
Game of the Week
The Coyotes currently occupy the third seed in the Pacific with 23 wins and 51 points. Arizona is 5-3-2 in its past 10, but are a middling 10-10-2 on the road this season. Hopefully that plays into the favor of Minnesota, a team that has gone a respectable 14-8-2 in their home barn. Still, we're in the middle of the annual mid-season slump, so don't get your hopes up. With the first three seeds in the Central all but out of reach, the Coyotes will be one of a few teams the Wild will have to compete against to secure a playoff spot, so this is indeed a very important four-point game. We all know what that means...
Key Player of the Week
Minnesota needs a legitimate No. 1 franchise center. A Jonathan Toews, an Anze Kopitar, a Steven Stamkos - you know, guys that don't exactly grow on trees. That said, this has been a big year for former 28th overall pick Charlie Coyle, who looks primed for a big, successful career as a responsible two-way pivot in the league. "Chowdah" is third on the team with 12 goals, tied for second in game-winning goals, sixth in points with 24, and second among Wild forwards with a plus-7 rating. The big center has played well on both sides of the puck, and has shown an ability to light the lamp in moments both big and small. Most importantly, Coyle has shown a level of urgency severely lacking in the rest of his teammates. ChAHlie has been the one constant bright spot in the 2015-16 mid-season slump, and he'll need to continue producing while the rest of the team rediscovers its game.
Key Opponent of the Week
Arizona has been riding the success of young rookie netminder Louis Domingue (eight wins, a 2.17 goals against average, a .927 save percentage and two shutouts), but this week's KO is another defensive component for the Coyotes - top young rear guard Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
OEL is the league's fourth-leading scorer among defensemen with 14 goals, 34 points, a negative-5 rating, eight power play goals, 16 power play points and six game-winning goals (two in OT) while skating a team-best nightly average ice-time of 25:24 per game. His point totals are tied with Mikkel Boedker for the team lead. Only captain Shane Doan has more goals (17) on the team this season. Simply put, Ekman-Larsson is one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and that's not going to change any time soon, especially not before Monday night.