Well, here we go again. The Minnesota Wild are facing off against the Calgary Flames. Unlike the last time, the Wild are on the road in Calgary as they prepare to put Sunday’s frustrating shootout loss to Calgary in the rearview mirror.
The Wild had a chance at two points on Sunday, but came up just short. Marcus Foligno (two goals) and Ryan Suter (two assists) led Wild players in points in the previous outing, while the Flames got help from all over their lineup.
Thursday night, the Wild get an opportunity to fix their wrong doing’s and beat the Flames in their own barn, just as their opponent did to them a few night ago.
Minnesota has had three full days of rest since Sunday. Calgary, however, hasn’t been so lucky. The Flames played a game Tuesday night — a 2-1 victory in Chicago over the Blackhawks. Elias Lindholm led the way offensively for the Flames, scoring both Calgary goals in the win. Lindholm’s linemate Matthew Tkachuk added assists on both goals. Goaltender Cam Talbot brushed aside 31 of 32 on the night.
Calgary has 51 points to Minnesota’s 46, with both teams eyeing at least a wild card spot. So this game is a little bigger than a random Thursday game against say a Carolina Hurricanes team. Any points in this game would be big, but earning a win in regulation would be significant.
1. Will Marcus Foligno continue to produce offensively?
The new year has treated Foligno quite well thus far. The big man, often known for his bruising play, has now found himself on the scoresheet more often in the new calendar year. Is it only January 9? Yes, but Foligno has three goals in two games and four points total.
With an elevated role at 5-on-5 and seeing more ice-time with teammate Jason Zucker out with a fractured right fibula, the Minnesota big man has stepped up big time. Playing on a line with Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek has provided an increase of about 17 shifts a night to 23 shifts. On Sunday, Foligno recorded season highs of 25 shifts and a total of 17:27 of ice time.
Marcus Foligno has stepped up in a big way offensively in the past two games. Can he do it again on Thursday?
2. Can Minnesota contain Calgary’s blue line?
Calgary’s blue line was the catapult for their offense on Sunday and the Wild continued to let forwards sit right in front, screening netminder Alex Stalock. This trend during the contest was the leading cause to three of the four goals scored against the Wild. Calgary defensemen Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone and Mark Giordano found the back of the net against Minnesota. Keeping Calgary’s defensemen off the scoresheet and taking away those shooting lanes will be key.
3. Will the league’s 25th-ranked penalty kill finally turn the corner?
Yup. Minnesota has the seventh worst penalty kill in the NHL. This is coming a year after finishing the 2018-19 season with the seventh best penalty-kill in the league. Last year the team had its struggles, no doubt, but the PK was the one thing the team was very consistent at all year.
What has changed?
The personnel is very similar. Same defenseman and forwards for the most part. Was the absence of Mikko Koivu for a month a bigger issue than advertised? Or is the loss of Eric Fehr from last year’s squad the difference between a 81.6% and 76.1%? Whatever it is, the Wild must improve while shorthanded.
4. How will three days of rest look on the Wild?
Will the team look fresh and well rested? Or will the team look a little too well rested? This is only the second time this season the Wild have had that many days off between two games. The last time that happened, the Wild played a great game against the Colorado Avalanche, scoring the game’s first two goals and the final three goals to defeat the Avalanche 6-4 in Colorado. The Wild started the game strong and finished the game strong. Will they have a similar outing after three full days off in Calgary tonight?