The last time Minnesota faced off against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena on February 2nd, the world of the Wild was a much different place. Marcus Foligno had been held out due to COVID precautions. Kevin Fiala was sitting out his third and final game of a suspension for boarding. And the Wild were in the midst of an up-and-down patch in their schedule, having dropped four of six and allowing 20 goals over that span.
Then, as everyone knows, the COVID bomb hit nearly the entire team, and the Wild’s schedule was put on hold for two weeks while Minnesota and the league struggled to regain control.
But outside of a rough blip upon their return to action against the LA Kings on February 16th, the Wild have all of their players back — including Mats Zuccarello, who made his season debut after offseason arm surgery, and are seemingly playing at full strength. Granted, those convincing wins were against the struggling (and then Trevor Zegras-less) Anaheim Ducks and a San Jose Sharks team that is only a point above the cellar in the West. But now the Avalanche come calling after splitting a four-game series with the Vegas Golden Knights, a series that included a Lake Tahoe game with a seven-hour break between the first and second periods and finished well into the wee hours of the morning.
The Wild has been an offensive dynamo over the past three games, scoring 14 goals (including two on the power play!) and have been led by a Kirill Kaprizov-Victor Rask-Mats Zuccarello line who put up nine points against the Sharks on Monday. On defense, the Wild have gotten back to their suffocating self, limiting chances while Kaapo Kahkonen cleans up the rest, stopping pucks at a .948 percentage over the last three games.
But as good as Kahkonen has been recently, the Wild have to be excited to get Cam Talbot back between the pipes after his return from the COVID protocol. Michael Russo of The Athletic speculated in his Wild/Sharks gamer that Talbot may make his season return as the Wild close up their five-game roadstand.
In order to end up on the right side of the scoresheet, the Wild will have to continue their offensive firepower against a Colorado Avalanche team that has been, somewhat surprisingly, relying more on their defensive play than their offense. Having entered the season looking to dominate scoring on the backs of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, the Avs instead find themselves only 21st in scoring, but holding the NHL’s top rank in goals against and on the penalty kill. Bottom line, the Wild shouldn’t expect to win another 6-2 or 4-3 bout against Colorado, and will have to play equally strong on both ends of the ice to get past a team that is just ahead of them in the standings in both points and points percentage.
Can the Wild keep their offensive mojo going? Or will the Nathan MacKinnon show light up the ice at Ball Arena like he did in Lake Tahoe? We’ll find out in a slightly earlier contest from Denver — puck drops at 8 p.m.
Can Kirill Kaprizov continue adding to his Calder resume?
OK, someone at SBNationNHL got a little implying that a tap-in at the end of a tic-tac-toe is Calder worthy, but we get the point... this is a sweet, sweet goal.
Just give Kaprizov the Calder already pic.twitter.com/B8epNYANq2— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) February 23, 2021
Regardless, Kaprizov leads the NHL’s rookie race (as of Tuesday afternoon) in points and assists and is tied for fifth in goals with four, and all of that despite playing as many as four fewer games than some of the others at or near the top of the list. Another multi-point game like Monday’s against the Sharks’ would extend Dolla Bill’s lead in the Calder race — and let’s face it — against a team like Colorado, they’ll need all the scoring they can get. Will Kaprizov get on the scoresheet against a goal-stingy team like the Avalanche?
Can Rask add to his... um... trade value?
In his last four games, Rask has... [checks the stats]... [checks them again]... four goals and two assists, including a three-point game against the Sharks on Monday.
Somewhere, Paul Fenton must be feeling really smug.
But no matter what the future holds for Victor Rask, dude’s been playing his best hockey for the Wild over the last handful of games. Does that continue on the Kaprizov-Rask-Lizard line?
How will Talbot look if he finally makes his return?
Update: Kahkonen will reportedly start for the Wild.
Not sure if Evason can sit Kahkonen with how well he’s played on this road trip, but at some point you’ve got to get your primary starter back on the ice and into the flow of the game, considering the Wild will likely need him in at least one of the back-to-back at the end of the week against the Kings. Talbot’s been practicing since February 19th and backed up Kahks on Monday, so he should be good to go. If he is, will he be able to quickly shake off the rust?