The Wild and Hurricanes meet in Raleigh Saturday night for their second matchup of the season. The first meeting between these teams, last month in St. Paul, was a milestone of sorts for the Wild. They entered November 16 tied for the worst record in the entire league with the Los Angeles Kings and were a point behind the Detroit Red Wings. The Kings won and the Red Wings lost in overtime, which meant the Wild’s own overtime loss had them in sole possession of last place.
That was also the second game of the Wild’s current 11-game point streak, ironically. Minnesota’s current 7-0-4 streak means that, in less than three weeks, they have gone from last place in the league to occupying a wildcard spot after Thursday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the season were to end today, seven of the 11 teams the Wild have played during this point streak would be in the playoffs, showing that the Wild are playing well against plenty of good teams. This includes the Hurricanes, who currently control the top wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
The first time these two teams met this season, Carolina won 4-3 in overtime. In that first meeting, the Wild were 0-for-3 on the power play and won just 46 percent of faceoffs. Both of these stats are areas the Wild could improve upon if they want a better result this team around against the Canes.
Any Wild fans looking forward to seeing former Minnesota players Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula will be disappointed to know that Haula is out with a lower-body injury. The first meeting between these two teams was just the second game back from injury for Haula, and apparently something was not quite right and he has not played again since. As for the Wild, they are dealing with their own fresh set of injuries.
NEWS: The #mnwild today announced the club has recalled defenseman Greg Pateryn and forward Nico Sturm from the @IAWild and placed captain Mikko Koivu (lower body) and Pateryn (lower body) on Injured Reserve.— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) December 6, 2019
per the @totallimo I-35 report: https://t.co/JzI42SAU3Y pic.twitter.com/SutIoqlMsf
With Mikko Koivu out, Luke Kunin has left the GEEK squad (RIP to one of the greatest nicknames of all time) to center the second line. As of Friday night, it is unclear if Nico Sturm will get any playing time right away. Presumably, it will either be Sturm or Victor Rask playing as the fourth-line center. Sturm, the undrafted collegiate free agent signed from Clarkson University last spring, had six goals and five assists in 23 games for Iowa when he was called up.
In addition to Koivu, the Wild are also dealing with the injury to Jared Spurgeon. To make up for his absence, the Wild have shifted Jonas Brodin to the right side and bumped Carson Soucy up to the second defensive pairing. All Soucy did to respond was have a goal, an assist and a plus-3 rating in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay.
This will be the final time these two teams meet this season. After Saturday, the Wild return home for a three-game homestand.
1. Can the Wild continue to fill in for their injured players?
As mentioned above, Carson Soucy had an excellent first game after his promotion to the second D pairing. But he is not the only player the Wild are relying on as they deal with injuries. Jonas Brodin needs to adapt to the right side well, and Luke Kunin needs to take over the second-line center role. If the Wild are going to see their point streak continue, they will need these players to succeed in their new roles.
2. Can the Wild score on the power play?
In the first meeting between these teams, the Wild went 0-for-3 with the man advantage. They also went 0-for-1 against the Panthers and 0-for-2 against the Lightning in the first two games of this road trip. Their power play percentage on the season is 20 percent, which is good for 10th in the league, but it has recently left a bit to be desired.
3. Can the Wild avoid being significantly outshot?
In the first two games of this current road trip, the Wild were outshot by a combined 80 to 47. The Wild have gotten a little lucky in these past two games. Against the Panthers, they were lucky that only two out of 46 shots found the back of the net. Against the Lightning, they were lucky that five out of their 21 shots went in. They needed their own goaltending to be great against the Panthers and their opponent’s goaltending to be awful against the Lightning, which is what they got.