It was a rollercoaster weekend for the Minnesota Wild, as the top team in the Central Division played two of the best teams in the league in back-to-back fashion, dropping a pair of high scoring affairs to Florida and Tampa Bay.
And as the Wild get set to face the New Jersey Devils for the first time since the 2019-20 season, many challenges loom in the Minnesota locker room.
The Wild lost captain Jared Spurgeon to a lower-body injury in Saturday’s loss to Florida and will again be without the defenseman today. It’s a week-to-week injury, but today could provide more insight into how coach Dean Evason will handle his defensive pairings.
Forward Kevin Fiala publicly shared frustrations over his ice time and being taken off the power play in Saturday’s loss, and rumors surfaced over the weekend that Minnesota has been in talks with the Vancouver Canucks for forward JT Miller.
Fiala is one rumored offer for Miller, but the validity of the Fiala ask can’t be confirmed, and the speedy winger looked motivated last weekend and nearly tied the game at the end of regulation against Florida before scoring a goal and adding an assist on Sunday.
The situation appears one to monitor.
The Wild (11-6-1) have won six of their last 10 games, while New Jersey is off to an 8-5-3 start. The Devils defeated Tampa Bay on Saturday to end a three-game skid and continue to hang around the playoff picture despite missing their top offensive threat in Jack Hughes.
How will the Wild handle the absence of Spurgeon?
Calen Addison was recalled over the weekend, and Matt Dumba played nearly 30 minutes in the loss to Tampa Bay, so Minnesota could get creative with their defensive deployment as they attempt to replace the top-pairing minutes for their lost captain. Instead of opting to give minutes to the exciting youngster in Addison, Jordie Benn will keep his spot on the blue line in Newark. Unless they view him as the solution to Spurgeon’s absence, then we should be expecting Addison to get some game time once he becomes more acclimatized to the full-time NHL system.
Alex Goligoski seems to be warming up to Minnesota at just the right time as well, as the free agent addition has a goal and six assists to lead the Wild in scoring over their last five games.
Minnesota has given up nine goals over their two games that saw Spurgeon miss time, so the defense is an area to monitor as the Wild work without their top defensive player.
Will Fiala continue to produce despite distractions?
The Wild put the 25 year old back on the power play on Sunday, where he played three minutes after not getting a sniff of time on the man advantage on Saturday.
The situation with Evason and Fiala continues to ebb and flow, and every game seems to be a different story.
But Fiala has managed three goals and nine assists through 18 games, respectable numbers for a guy who continues to find his way into the coach’s doghouse. Will Fiala respond with a more consistent effort on Wednesday or will Evason find a reason to staple him to the bench again?
We will find out when the puck drops at 6:00 p.m.