This week starts with a bang with the NHL's Trade Deadline coming at 2 PM CT on Monday. The Minnesota Wild have been rumored to be in talks for players like Boston's Loui Eriksson, Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin, and even Edmonton for a couple different notable names. It'll be very interesting to see what this team looks like in just a few short hours from this writing.
As of today, Minnesota sits just two points outside of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with a 28-25-10 record and 66 points. That eighth seed is currently occupied by Colorado, with Nashville claiming the top wild card spot with 73 points, while the rest of the Central Division is around the corner and out of sight. In the rear-view mirror, Vancouver and Arizona are tied for 10th with 60 points, Calgary and Winnipeg are tied for 12th with 56 points, and Edmonton, as always, is in the seller, er, cellar with 53 points. That totally was a typo.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday, March 1st - Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche 7:00 PM CT (FS-N, FS-WI)
Thursday, March 3rd - Minnesota Wild @ Toronto Maple Leafs 6:30 PM CT (FS-N, FS-WI)
Saturday, March 5th - Minnesota Wild @ Buffalo Sabres 12:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Sunday, March 6th - Minnesota Wild vs St. Louis Blues 7:00 PM CT (NBCSN)
Game of the Week
The Wild kick off March with the first playoff game of the season. A regulation victory over the eighth place Avalanche will temporarily lift them back into a playoff berth. Whether they can keep it is an entirely different matter. The stakes make what is already sure to be a heated contest between division rivals all that much more dramatic.
Key Player of the Week
There has been no hotter player for Minnesota in recent weeks than former Gopher Erik Haula. The "Finnesotan" has been on fire with four goals, 11 points, a plus-7 rating and 18 shots on goal in his past 11 games. Through 57 games this season, the 2009 seventh round pick has crushed his career regular season totals with eight goals, 22 points and a 13.8% shooting percentage.
With the departure of former head coach Mike Yeo, it's safe to say Haula has been let out of the dog house and unleashed. He's fast, skilled and has the ability to give goalies nightmares with both his shot and play-making ability. Wild fans thought he was outstanding in 2014 during his rookie campaign - it looks like they haven't seen anything yet. With Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter benefiting greatly on his wings, this is currently the deadliest line in Iron Range Red and Forest Green. Maybe Minnesota won't have to look far from home for its next great top-6 center.
Key Opponent of the Week
Matt Duchene isn't having the best season of his career, but it's far from terrible. In fact, the Colorado pivot is just one goal away from tying his career best of 27, and the potential is there for him to do it in 15 fewer games. Through 64 contests this season, the 2009 third overall pick has 26 goals, 48 points, a negative-7 rating, six power play goals and 13 power play points to go with career-bests of a 15.1% shooting percentage and 58.19% off the draw.
After a rough start to the season, the Avalanche quickly gained ground, and it all started with increased production from the club's top center. Making him a non-factor will be Minnesota's biggest key to success. That said, the Wild should keep both eyes open - Colorado's other young center, Nathan MacKinnon, can be just as dangerous, if not more so.