MINNESOTA WILD VS PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
7:00PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
TV: Fox Sports-North
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: Fox Sports Go app
Though we aren’t quite there yet, we’re getting close to being able to feel pretty darn good about the Wild again. During a very troubling opening month to this season, even on nights when Minnesota was finding wins, something still did not feel right. But for each of the past three games, the Wild has finally looked like the team that cruised through the regular season last year, and despite a horrific late-season slump, still earned the most points in its history as a franchise. It is playing tight defense, keeping shots to the outside and getting sticks in lanes on seemingly every attempt on its goal. When things have broken down, Devan Dubnyk has been the dominant netminder that we have seen in the past, having now gone 135 minutes without allowing a goal that counted on the scoreboard (though two were negated against Montreal on Thursday). It’s safe to say that he is finally comfortable in net, as he was absolutely razor-sharp Saturday, making not just the saves he is generally expected to make, but also a few gamebreakers throughout, including late in the third period.
Tonight, the Wild returns home for the first time since leaving for its four-game road trip that ended 2-2-0, with its most recent contest coming against tonight’s opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jason Zucker was predictably named the NHL’s Number 1 Star of the Week after providing 100% of Minnesota’s offensive output through the last three games. Continuing his incredible roll tonight would be quite lovely to see.
Did anyone notice that the beards of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek match the Flyers’ uniforms perfectly? Keep an eye out for that tonight, because it is worth a chuckle.
Same bat teams, same bat channel.
I did a slightly deeper dive into the Flyers’ lineup and season prior to Saturday’s game, so I invite you to read that Game Preview by clicking here if you haven’t already.
The Wild demonstrated on Saturday exactly what it needs to do to be successful against this team, which is—very basically—stop the top line. Sean Couturier, Giroux, and Voracek, who have lit up the rest of the NHL throughout this season and are all still scoring better than a point per game on average, were held off the scoresheet Saturday. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the Flyers followed suit. Mikko Koivu’s line, led by the Kaptain himself, was exceptional in defending against the electric trio, making enormous plays in the defensive end, while also creating prime scoring chances off of counter-attacking rushes.
One play that very much sticks out from Saturday’s matchup between these teams happened mid-way through the second period, when Dubnyk made a butterfly save on his left post, but then got tangled up and was slow getting across to get the rebound. Couturier was on the doorstep, looking at a wide-open net, a place he has found himself repeatedly while playing with Giroux and Voracek. Koivu hooked Couturier’s stick just enough to slow the centerman down and prevent him from one-timing it. In that split-second delay that was created, Dubnyk was able to recover and get his toe on Couturier’s shot. This is what we call “team defense,” and this is how the Wild can stop this top line again tonight, which creates dangerous chances constantly with one-touch passing plays in the offensive end.
Brian Elliott was a formidable foe in net for Philadelphia on Saturday, stopping 26 of 27 shots, including some dazzlers of his own. He and Michal Neuvirth have platooned for much of the season, though Neuvirth hasn’t appeared since giving up four goals on 27 shots in an overtime loss against the Avalanche on November 4th. Elliott looks to have officially earned the top spot in the crease for Philly, and since he has played so well of late, I would guess he gets right back in tonight.
Zucker is on a historic streak right now, having scored each of the Wild’s last six goals. Per NHL Public Relations, it is the longest such streak since Glen Murray accomplished the same feat for Boston in 2004. Zucker is scoring at such an unprecedented pace, even his wife has decided that it may be best for him to stay permanently on the “road.”
The doors are locked. It's been a good run, husband, but you're never allowed home https://t.co/t6y6YG8LhQ— Carly Zucker (@CarlyAplin) November 12, 2017
Even when he doesn’t direct the puck toward the goal, it’s still going in, as was the case on his tally Saturday in Philly, when he partially fanned on a puck that had caromed off the endwall. That puck was not headed toward the net, but it deflected off the knob of Elliott’s stick and through his legs. So, while it’s nice to have a slightly more balanced scoring attack than one singular player potting all the goals, Bruce Boudreau’s game plan should probably remain “for the love of God, get the puck to Zucker” until further notice.
Examining Dubnyk’s outstanding play, I’ve thought for a while that he’s looked close to being the impenetrable force that we’ve seen him be in the past, except for last week in Boston, when he was fighting pucks and just wasn’t tracking well. But looking back, it was almost as if he was trying to get the bad juju out of his system that night, as he’s gotten better and better in each game since then.
Dubnyk is big enough that when he drops down, the puck will hit him almost every time, even if he’s not seeing it particularly well on a given night. But on those nights when he’s slightly off his game, as has been the case for a lot of the season, pucks that aren’t directly into him seem to find the net easily. Conversely, when Dubnyk is on his game and sharp, he gets to the pucks that are not into his massive body as well, and this is when we start to see him be elite.
He made a save on Scott Laughton in the last five minutes Saturday where Laughton one-timed a pass from just a couple feet outside the goalcrease. Dubnyk tracked the pass, got off his post, and extended his right pad to solidly kick away the shot, one that he absolutely never would have gotten to a couple weeks ago. His confidence is suddenly palpable, and although Alex Stalock hasn’t played in what feels like forever, there’s no chance Boudreau doesn’t give Duby the opportunity to extend his shutout streak tonight.
No—Zach Parise or Charlie Coyle.
The second overall pick in the Draft, Nolan Patrick, reportedly returned to practice yesterday and is on the road trip with the team. That was his first time skating with the Flyers since being concussed on October 24th, though, so I’d think his return tonight is farfetched. Andrew MacDonald is close to returning from a lower body injury as well, according to RotoWorld.