Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Wild are actually starting to play some decent hockey. In their last eight games, the Wild are 5-2-1 and are just looking better in most phases of the game. They still have a long way to go before they can be considered a legitimate contender for the postseason, but their back-to-back wins against the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche serve as a good start. And Saturday night, the Wild will have a chance to do something they have failed to do all season — win three straight games.
That’s right, folks. Over a quarter of the way through the season, the Wild still have yet to string more than two consecutive wins together, which is largely why they sit so far down in the league standings.
If the Wild wish to change that, however, they’ll have to beat a damn good Boston Bruins team. On the road. In TD Garden. Not exactly going to be easy.
There’s no doubt about it. The Bruins are one of the best teams in hockey, if not the best team in hockey. The Wild, on the other hand, definitely are not. But something is feeling different about this team recently. The Wild are finally starting to score goals consistently, and it’s resulting in wins. The goaltending has also improved recently, mainly thanks to the play of 32-year-old Alex Stalock, who will guard the net once again in Boston.
Unfortunately, Stalock is getting the start largely due to some tough circumstances. Devan Dubnyk, who likely would have gotten the start against the Bruins, will not join the Wild on their three-game road trip as he tends to a family emergency. With Dubnyk out of the lineup, Stalock will be face to face with one of the most potent offenses in the NHL, which could actually be a good thing for veteran backstop.
1. Can Stalock create some separation between himself and Dubnyk?
This is more a question for the entire road trip than it is for the game against Boston alone. While it is unfortunate that Dubnyk isn’t joining his team on the road trip (especially due to a family matter), Stalock now has a pretty big opportunity to prove that he deserves more starts as the season progresses. Dubnyk has struggled mightily this season, and Stalock has actually been a stabilizing presence in net for the Wild through nine starts. In fact, most of Minnesota’s wins have come in games that Stalock started, despite him starting four fewer games than Dubnyk. Though the Wild will likely continue to use both Dubnyk and Stalock in regularity, Stalock’s opportunity to usurp Dubnyk as the “starter” is now.
2. Will the GEEK Squad continue to impress?
Looking for a reason to be excited about Minnesota’s future? Well, here’s your reason. The line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin, or the GEEK Squad, has been standing out pretty consistently recently — in a good way. In over 68 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time together this season, the GEEK Squad has a good 53.44 CF%, a very good 57.49 xGF% and a downright fantastic 63.64 GF%. In English, Greenway, Eriksson Ek and Kunin are not only driving play together, but they’re also creating more (and better) scoring chances than opposing teams. The line will be tested Saturday night against a very good Bruins team, but this young trio will be key in giving the Wild a chance in Boston. Let’s see how they respond.
3. Can Minnesota slow down Boston’s ridiculously good power play?
By now, you’ve probably heard that the Bruins’ power play is quite good. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Torey Krug all on the ice at the same time? Yeah, no thank you. The Wild will have their work cut out for them as they look to shut down Boston’s top unit, which is likely the best in hockey aside from maybe the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl-led power play in Edmonton. Minnesota’s penalty kill isn’t bad in its own right (ranked eighth in the league), but Boston is a completely different monster. The Wild PK will need to be close to perfect.