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Preview: Wild head back into the depths to take on the Kraken

Tonight’s game will the last in Seattle for the rest of the 2021-22 regular season.

Minnesota Wild v Seattle Kraken Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

The Central Division-leading Minnesota Wild head to Washington to play the Seattle Kraken. It’s their final matchup of the season at Climate Pledge Arena and the second one of three total.

The Wild have been one of the most surprising teams so far in the 2021-22 NHL season. Of course, we all thought that they would be a solid team, but I don’t think many believed they would come out of the gate this hot. They are currently tied for the Central Division lead with a 9-4-0 record and 18 points.

After a somewhat slow start, Kirill Kaprizov is playing like himself again. He started to simplify his game and it has paid massive dividends. He’s a player that any team wants to watch when coming into a game against the Wild. He is now below the point per game plateau, but he’s scored three goals, and the puck has started to find his stick more.

Another narrative surrounding the team is the defensive core. The new additions to the veterans have been a massive key to the Wild’s success. Captain Jared Spurgeon has six points in his last five games, which has put him up to eight in 13 games on the season. No one can sleep on the contributions from Matt Dumba, who currently leads the defense in points with nine in 13 games. The unit’s contributions go far beyond the box score, and the new guys have come in and made a sizeable impact. One of the big things to watch tonight and the nights ahead is the offense running through the defense. It’s a huge part of the team’s strategy, and it works very efficiently.

Wild lines for tonight:

Kaprizov-Gaudreau-Zuccarello

Foligno-Eriksson Ek-Fiala

Greenway-Hartman-Pitlick

Duhaime-Sturm-Bjugstad

Goligoski-Spurgeon

Brodin-Dumba

Merrill-Kulikov

Talbot

After following up the Vegas Golden Knights in expansion, the Kraken has started rather poorly. They sit with a record of 4-9-1, which is last in a Pacific Division that has looked relatively good to start the new season. In their previous ten games, they’re 3-7-0 despite some excellent performances from individual players.

One player that hasn’t lived up to his reputation or contract is Philipp Grubauer. He signed over the offseason with the expansion team, and so far, he hasn’t been the goaltender they hoped for when they signed him. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2020-21, and he has been anything but that in 2021-22. He holds a record of 4-6-1 with a 3.17 goals-against average (GAA) and a .882 save percentage (Sv%). His goals saved above expected per Evolving-Hockey is the worst in the NHL at minus-11.14. He has faced the 24th highest expected goals against (xGA), which means that the quality of the shots has been increased, but not high enough to warrant an excuse for the abhorrent numbers. Of course, it’s not always his fault, and the numbers can be a bit misleading sometimes, but it’s no secret that he hasn’t been great for a team based around defense and goaltending.

Former Nashville Predators and New York Rangers forward Colin Blackwell appears to be making his season debut tonight. He’s a hard-working depth forward with some relatively solid skill. He can control the puck well and drive it up through the neutral zone, so being able to stifle him should be a point of emphasis. The Wild haven’t seen him very much through his NHL career, but they should get a good one tonight.

With Blackwell making his debut tonight, the Kraken lines look like:

Schwartz-Wennberg-Eberle

Johansson-McCann-Donato

Jarnkrok-Gourde-Donskoi

Tanev-Geekie-Blackwell

Oleksiak-Giordano

Larsson-Lauzon

Dunn-Soucy

The Wild lost the first game of the season series 4-1, with the only goal coming from Ryan Hartman, who has been one of the best contributors on the goal-scoring side of the game for the team. However, the last time these two teams played, the Wild were without Mats Zuccarello and Rem Pitlick due to COVID-19. Both of those players have been strong contributors to the overall success of the team. With them back, it’s time for some redemption.

Burning Questions

Can Cam Talbot bounce back?

Talbot has had a negative GSAx over his last four appearances. He hasn’t had the best start to the season, and it’s not the one that I’m sure he envisioned going in. Neither goaltender has been great, but Talbot was looked at to be the steady presence in net while a young Kaapo Kahkonen looked to improve bit by bit. A big game against a team like the Kraken could surely help to spark a bounce back in his individual performances. The defense has played well in front of him as evidenced by the expected goals against numbers relative to the league, so now it’s time for him to step up and take charge. He doesn’t have to have a game with tons of miraculous saves, but any positives he can draw will be important to bouncing back in the long run.

Can Minnesota take advantage of a down-trodden opponent?

The Wild are riding high, and the Kraken are in the depths. Winning games against teams that you should be able to beat can make or break a team’s playoff position by the end of the season. The Kraken have struggled to beat the teams they’ve played, and the Wild should be no exception. They have to come out looking to continue their winning ways from puck drop. Take advantage of the matchup, and don’t underestimate a team that can come out and beat you if they’re given the chance. No team in the NHL should be counted out before a game.. Whether they’re first or last in the standings, it doesn’t matter. The Kraken have beat them once already, so don’t let them do it again.