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Preview: Wild Square Off Against The Sharks In First Game After Boudreau Firing

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With interim head coach Dean Evason at the helm, how will the Wild fare?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Just two days ago, the Minnesota Wild collapsed late in the third period against Artemi Panarin and the New York Rangers to ultimately lose in a shootout, squandering an important extra point in the standings.

Two goals slipped by Wild goaltender Alex Stalock in the final eight minutes of the third. Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich started the crawl back for the blueshirts, cutting the lead to just one goal. Then with only 1:06 remaining in regulation, Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad notched the equalizer with his own net empty in the other end.

That was hard, squandering a two-goal lead, but the subject that was even worse for the Wild and had everyone talking after the game occurred in the shootout. In the second round of the shootout, Panarin slowed down and went out wide, taking his sweet time, in a fashion similar to one of his old teammates Patrick Kane, and stick-handled while Stalock seemed to be waiting for the Russian to finally take his shot. When the Rangers forward finally did, he had transitioned his skating backwards before beating the Wild netminder.

Was it legal? Maybe. Maybe not. All the Wild know is it put the final dagger in a dismal collapse.

It also wound up costing the Wild their head coach, Bruce Boudreau. Yesterday, the Wild head coach was relieved of his coaching duties with 25 games left on this season’s schedule.

Assistant coach Dean Evason, much known for being “Fenton’s guy,” will take over as interim head coach for the rest of the season. In a press conference on Friday, Evason had this to say, “I’ll lean on the coaches and we will come up with a game plan each and every day to how we go about things. It is a team. It won’t be me, it’ll be us going forward. But I’ll try to lead as the head coach.”

After a day of change in the Wild organization, the team facws their first opponent under Evason’s guidance. This is a chance for the team to leave the dismal collapse in the rearview by squaring off against a team struggling in the standings.

Tonight, the Wild host the 25-28-4 San Jose Sharks at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. In what seems to be an anomaly season for the Sharks, the Wild are in desperate need to take advantage of a team riddled with injuries and one that hasn’t come close to their preseason expectations.

The injuries of both captain Logan Couture and co-star Tomas Hertl have truly derailed the Sharks this season, even after a bad start to the year, winning just four out of the team’s first 15 games. Couture has been out since January 7 with an ankle injury and with the initial diagnosis being six weeks. Couture has started to skate with the team but an exact timetable for return is not known. Hertl underwent season-ending surgery on his left knee on February 3. Hertl, who has begun the recovery process, is expected to be ready for the team’s 2020-21 training camp in September. He suffered a torn ACL and MCL on January 29 against Vancouver. Hertl concluded the 2019-20 season with 16 goals and 36 points in 48 games.

With the team spiraling downwards in the standing each and every day, a guy like Joe Thornton has found his way into the trade rumors of late. Now, it seems the Sharks won’t deal him unless he asks, but one would ponder if the wily veteran would want a kick at a Stanley Cup run with time likely running low on his ridiculously good NHL career.

Goaltending has been atrocious and very unreliable for the Sharks this season. Their situation in the crease is the worst case of the Minnesota Wild’s this season. The Sharks, like the Wild, have no idea what they have in store on any particular night from the most important person on the ice.

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones is expected to get the nod tonight. Jones is 13-17-2 in 33 games this season. He has posted a 3.25 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage in 25 starts and one relief. The last time he suited up against the Wild came in November where he made 21 saves in a win over Minnesota.

Burning Questions

1. How will the Wild fare in the first game following Bruce Boudreau’s firing?

In a shocking dismissal on Friday, Bruce Boudreau was relieved of his coaching duties. This resulted in a lot of mixed feeling in and around the Wild organization as one of Minnesota’s most popular coaches in any sport over the past 25 years was let go.

Tonight, the Wild play their first game without Boudreau, and with interim head coach Dean Evason stepping into the role. The 55-year-old Flin Flon, Canada native is a former fifth-round draft pick, played over 800 games in the NHL and has coached in the WHL, AHL, and NHL for much of the past two decades. Evason has put in his time, so there should be no doubt he is ready for his time as head coach, even if it is as an interim.

The real question is how the players are going to respond?

2. Will Galchenyuk get on the scoresheet for the first time in a Wild uniform?

Alex Galchenyuk has yet to put his stamp on either of the two contests he has suited up in a Wild uniform. Granted, I’m his first game with the team he had practically stepped off a plane and into a second line with Luke Kunin and Mats Zuccarello. In the two games however, he has been given a lot more opportunity than his final days in Pittsburgh, playing 13:44 in his most recent outing. This is compared to his final two games in Pittsburgh in which he played just 3:02 in his final outing and 5:10 of ice time in the game prior to that.

He has a great opportunity to showcase to GM Bill Guerin the skill level he can play at in the NHL. Remember, once upon a time, Galchenyuk was a 30-goal scorer. Can he find lightning in a bottle in the last 25 regular-season games? Can he start it off tonight with a goal or an assist?

3. Who will be the better goaltender?

Both teams have had abysmal goaltending for much of the year. Assuming Devan Dubnyk gets the nod tonight after Stalock surrendered a two-goal lead late in the third (even if it wasn’t his fault) in the last game, will he get the upper hand on Martin Jones tonight? The last time these two teams met, Jones had one of his better performances of the season. This being said, tonight would be a great night for a Wild goaltender to put up a stellar performance.

General Manager Bill Guerin still has faith in this team and believes they can still make the playoffs. The Wild trail the second Wild Card seed Arizona Coyotes by three points with three games in hand on them. If a run is to be taken by the Wild, it starts in the back end with Dubnyk and Stalock. Can the starter tonight out-perform one of the league’s worst goaltenders the past two seasons — Martin Jones?