The Minnesota Wild had to wait 655 days for the chance to beat the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night, and did so in exciting, nail-biting fashion. The Wild’s opponent on Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks, are a bit more familiar. Only six days has elapsed since Minnesota’s 2-1 victory at the Honda Center in the Wild’s season opener back on Oct. 15.
Since then, the Wild remain undefeated on a gritty, bottom-six-fueled 3-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings, and a high-flying, comeback from multiple deficits, edge-of-your-seat thrilling 6-5 overtime victory against the Winnipeg Jets. Stephon from SNL would have had a field day describing the outing... “This. Game. Had. Everything. Hat tricks, superman punches, an empty netter overturned on review, and a human tic tac toe. Oh, it’s that thing where Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov set up Joel Eriksson Ek and make everyone who left early feel serious FOMO...”
ERIKSSON EK HAT TRICK OT WINNNNER pic.twitter.com/nNtepS5p8b— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 20, 2021
Luckily for everyone, be they the players responsible for the win or the fans who needed a breather after the amazing finish, the Wild enjoyed three days off before Saturday evening’s puck drop against Anaheim. With the Wild yet to put a number in the loss column and the team managing to stay healthy, one should not expect Dean Evason to make any changes to the lineup. That goes for netminder Cam Talbot, who (according to Athletic beat writer and all around great hockey mind Michael Russo) will get the net for the fourth game in a row. Kaapo Kahkonen, however, is slated to see the ice for the first time this season on Sunday evening against Nashville in the second game of the back-to-back.
The Ducks, since the loss to the Wild back in Anaheim, have embarked on a road trip with mostly disappointing results. Things started off well with a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames, but injuries suffered by rookie Mason McTavish and bottom-sixer Max Jones didn’t help as the Ducks ended up dropping a high-scoring 6-5 affair the next night to the Edmonton Oilers, where the two teams traded one-goal leads for two periods before the Oil pulled away with three straight goals in the third. The Ducks continued their four-game roadie on Thursday night against a Jets team looking for a bounce-back effort after their heartbreaking loss against the Wild, and boy did they deliver, dropping five-straight goals on the Ducks (two by Kyle Connor) en route to a decisive 5-1 victory despite playing without Mark Schiefle and Blake Wheeler due to COVID protocol.
The young roster Anaheim is running this season can’t afford many injuries and missed man hours, so they have to hope that McTavish won’t miss much time as they need him to learn quickly on the job. McTavish did skate with the Ducks at Thursday’s practice, so all signs lean towards their rookie rejoining the team when his IR stint ends on October 27th. In the meantime, the Ducks top six has been playing pretty well despite the record and the decimated bottom six, with the line of Sonny Milano-Ryan Getzlaf-Troy Terry the standouts at an 80% xGF. In net, the tandem of John Gibson (the expected Saturday starter) and Anthony Stolarz have allowed 14 goals in five games, but they’ve also faced an average of 36 shots per game, and actually are beating their expected save percentage and goals against average. It’s the Ducks defense who has been letting the goalies down as of late. Sure, Cam Fowler and Josh Manson have been solid with a 60.71 CF%, but Hampus Lindholm and Jamie Drysdale have a sub-50% CF and 46.56 xGF%. As for the third pairing of Josh Mahura and Kevin Shattenkirk, the less said, the better.
They key for both squads, as it always seems to be, is special teams. After converting on three of five power play attempts against the Jets, Minnesota has vaulted up to 5th place in the league on the power play, converting at a 36.4% clip - rarefied aire for a team that has struggled on the man advantage over the past few seasons. The Ducks aren’t far behind with a 33.3% conversion rate on the power play. But what also makes special teams a key factor to watch tonight is the fact that both Minnesota and Anaheim are both in the top six in terms of penalty minutes per game: the Wild being assessed 17.3 PIMs per contest and Anaheim earning 15.2. So each team should get their opportunities with the man advantage - but which team will fare better?
And if all else fails, will the Wild simply play a shell game with their roster? I mean, how can the Ducks prepare for any one player when they all look alike?
Nick Bjugstad and Nico Sturm? pic.twitter.com/3pryWA2BL8— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) October 22, 2021
Minnesota’s got a great chance to keep the winning streak going with some home-cooked Ducks before wrapping up the homestand with the Preds on Sunday. Puck drops at 5 p.m.
He can score, he can fight, and he can fire up his teammates. What will Marcus Foligno do tonight?
Beware, NHL... the Moose is loose.
Mic'd up Moose.— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 21, 2021
It gets the people GOING! pic.twitter.com/E807azXyZi
He’s got three points in three games and almost as many fights. He had the game winner the last time they played the Ducks, and had a big goal to get the Wild back in the game against the Jets. He’s got the “A” on his sweater and nothing’s gonna stop him now.
What’s Marcus got in store for the Ducks redux?
Can Talbot bounce back from a not-so-great outing against the Jets?
The Wild may have managed the win, but Talbot did not have the best outing in the 6-5 OT win against the Jets. Sure, some of the struggles are due to the defensemen in front of him, specifically the growing pains of Alex Goligoski while he gets used to playing with Jared Spurgeon, as well the fact that whatever combo of Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merril and (eventually) Jordie Benn that Evason throws out there for the third pairing won’t be Carson Soucy and Ian Cole. But even so, all of Winnipeg’s goals came from beyond the slot, and a couple of them were the kind that Cam would definitely want back.
Evason has made it clear that Talbot is the guy and will get the majority of the starts while Kahkonen will get spot duty to help keep Talbot rested and ready. And obviously, the team is 3-0 so there’s absolutely no reason to worry about Talbot’s workload yet. But after a rough outing, seeing Talbot bounce back against a Ducks team that has two lines that can definitely score goals would be a nice thing to see.
Can the Wild’s power play stay hot?
After going 1-for-6 on the first weekend of the season, the Wild’s man advantage fired up against the Jets, scoring thrice on their five chances. We get it. It’s one game. And one high-scoring game doesn’t solve the power play struggles the Wild have had in recent years. But the Ducks are among the top of NHL teams in penalty minutes assessed (as are the Wild), and are about the middle of the pack on the penalty kill. So if Minnesota wants a chance to keep that power play rolling, they’ve got a good opportunity against the Ducks.