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Preview: Wild to start homestand against Ducks

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Can Minnesota rebound after having their 11-game point streak snapped on Saturday?

Anaheim Ducks v Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild saw their 11-game point streak come to an end on Saturday night with a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. The Hurricanes exposed the Wild’s weaknesses with their youth and speed, and Minnesota just couldn’t keep up.

Of course, it was just one game, and with recent victories against high-flying teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, Wild fans should not panic yet. The team has generally played very well over the past month, and being resilient has been a huge key to their recent success.

The losses of Mikko Koivu (who will still have his 1,000th game ceremony before the game Tuesday) and Jared Spurgeon obviously are a big blows to this Wild team, and that was evident in Saturday’s loss to Carolina where Minnesota struggled to slow down a fast and skilled team in Carolina. Thankfully, both Koivu and Spurgeon’s injuries do not appear to be too serious, so they should be back relatively soon.

This has opened the door for Minnesota native Brennan Menell to get a shot with the big club, and it sounds like he could make his NHL debut at some point during the homestand. Menell, 22, has 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 23 games played for the Iowa Wild this season. He has progressed nicely each season in the AHL after being signed out of the WHL as a free agent back in 2017.

No indication has been made yet of who will get the start in goal for Minnesota, but with Devan Dubnyk still not playing as he deals with a family health issue, it will come down to either Alex Stalock or Kaapo Kahkonen.

Also of note, after being called up from Iowa after the Koivu injury, Nico Sturm was assigned back to Iowa on Monday after it seemed like he would make his season debut.

In turn, don’t be shocked if Ryan Donato is centering the second line with Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala, with Victor Rask being relegated to fourth-line center duties after a bad outing in Carolina.

The last meeting between the two teams came on November 5. Minnesota rallied from a 2-0 deficit to a 4-2 win with goals from Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello, Eric Staal and Zach Parise. Alex Stalock also played very well in that game, making 29 saves on 31 shots.

As for the Ducks, they have struggled after a nice start to the season, and currently sit second to last in the Western Conference with 28 points, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings and trailing Minnesota by four points.

Veteran forward Ryan Getzlaf has once again been one of the Ducks’ best players, leading the team with 24 points in 30 games played, followed by Jakob Silfverberg, who has 20 points in 30 games. In goal, a usually dominant goalie in John Gibson has struggled this season, going 8-12-2 with a 2.87 GAA and .909 SV%. Gibson is still one of the better goalies in the league, so Minnesota will have to earn their offense in Tuesday’s game.

Burning Questions?

1. Can Dumba and Ryan Suter bounceback from poor performances?

Historically, defensemen Matt Dumba and Ryan Suter have had their struggles as a defensive pair, and Saturday’s game against Carolina was a perfect example. They were throwing pucks away and getting beat on plays all night long. Overall, this pairing needs to be much better for Minnesota to succeed, and it would also be nice if Dumba could rediscover his flare and start producing in the offensive end.

2. Was last game just an abberation for Kevin Fiala?

After a stretch of 13 points in 14 games, Fiala struggled (like most of the team) in Saturday’s game, and his negative qualities as a player were exposed — a few turnovers and a bad penalty just after Minnesota cut the Carolina lead to 3-2, which led to a power-play goal for the Canes. While it is by no means worrisome yet, hopefully Fiala will not lose that great confidence that he had going the previous 14 games. When Fiala is on, he is maybe Minnesota’s most dynamic player.

3. Who will get the start in goal and will they play well enough to give Minnesota a good chance to win?

It’s safe to say that goaltending has been one of the biggest things holding the Wild back in the first two months of the season. Although Alex Stalock has performed admirably in Dubnyk’s absence, he still has had a few rough games where he has given up untimely goals. An encouraging sign has been the play of young Finnish goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, who has won both of his first two NHL starts while making 76 saves on 80 shots in the process. Though he is still very raw and inexperienced at the NHL level, he has performed well in his first two games and serves as a nice option in net.