When you look at the Minnesota Wild’s home records since taking up residence at the Xcel Energy Center back in 2001, it’s clear that the home ice advantage benefits the Wild against some teams more than others. Remarkably, the Wild have historically done the best at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning, owning a 12-2-0 record against the Eastern conference juggernauts.
But quickly climbing the Wild’s home win percentage charts are the Vegas Golden Knights, against whom they own an 80 percent win rate. Granted, the sample size is pretty small at 4-1-0, but still, there’s something about home cooking when it comes to hosting the National Hockey League’s most recent expansion team.
After a physical, defensive-style affair on Monday night that ended in a 2-0 victory, the Wild will look to continue their home success against Vegas and continue their climb up the West division standings. Minnesota finished Monday’s game with 29 points, good enough for third place in the West behind St. Louis and Vegas, thanks in part to the Arizona Coyotes nabbing a late regulation win against the Colorado Avalanche, keeping the Avs a point back in fourth place and the Coyotes in fifth, just two standings points back of the Wild.
After giving up a total of ten goals in their first series with Vegas in early March, the Wild knew they’d have to shut down the potent Golden Knights’ attack, especially with how great Vezina candidate Marc-Andre Fleury has been playing as of late. On Monday night the Wild did just that, breaking up passing lanes and clearing out pucks from the crease, allowing rookie netminder Kaapo Kahkonen good looks at incoming shots, allowing him to stop every one of the 26 Vegas shots he faced. Should he be in net again for the series rematch, the task may be a bit more difficult if Golden Knights leading scorer Mark Stone returns from injury. Both he and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo were gametime decisions for Monday’s game, and Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that both were being evaulated for Wednesday, meaning their availability may not be known until pre-game skate.
Update: Pietrangelo has been sent back to Las Vegas for evalulation of his hand injury. Stone and defenseman Brayden McNabb are both game-time decisions, with McNabb the more likely candidate to see the ice tonight.
Offensively, the Wild were led in terms of chances and energy by the third line of Zach Parise, Victor Rask and Kevin Fiala, who kept Fleury busy all night defending shot after shot and chance after chance. Fiala’s first period goal on a beauty of a snap shot (with Parise playing distraction on a two-on-one) was the only time the Wild would need to find the twine behind Fleury. Technically, it’s the only time they did, as Jonas Brodin’s empty net attempt was foiled by a slash from Johnathan Marchessault, but the Wild defenseman was awarded a goal since the offense occurred on the breakaway with the opposing cage unattended.
Tonight, expect the Vegas net to be filled by Fleury once again, owner of a .976 save percentage over his last three games. One would also have to assume that Kahkonen will get the call, considering his seven-game win streak, his .947 sv% over that span, and the fact that he’s coming off his first career shutout.
Update: Kahkonen and Fleury confirmed starters for tonight
The Wild could use another big win as their schedule doesn’t get any easier through the middle of March, with a three-game set against the Coyotes followed by a pair of away games versus the Avalanche looming on the horizon. Puck drops with the sun still out (I know, right?) at 6 p.m. local time at the X in St. Paul.
Can Kaprizov turn his silky moves into impact on the scoresheet?
Kaprizov keeps on turning heads during his legally-defined-by-the-league-as-Calder-Trophy-eligible season, but recently, outside of a two-assist game against the Coyotes, Dolla Bill Kirill hasn’t been able to crack the scoresheet. His current five-game goal drought his is second longest of the season, nearly matching a six-game streak he had after scoring his debut goal in his debut game.
No doubt about it, Kirill the Thrill is due. Can Kaprizov finally get his first goal in the month of March?
Can Kahkonen make it a great eight?
He’s won seven in a row. He earned his first career shutout. He’s been the hottest goaltender in the NHL since mid-February. And he actually gives the Wild a second Calder candidate for top rookie along with Kaprizov. And his benchmate, Cam Talbot, allowed nine goals in the Wild’s two-game set with Vegas last week.
Dean Evason’s got to ride the hot streak, right?
Assuming Kahkonen gets another start against the Golden Knights, can he keep up his poised, calm play in the net and keep the Wild in the game, no matter if his offense scores one goal or five?
Speaking of calm and poised, can the Wild avoid penalties by keeping sloppy play and frustration at bay?
It seems the referees have been hesitant to call just about anything on Vegas in their past three meetings, so the Wild have got to keep their focus and their tempers in check. Focus will help them avoid penalties like the two bench minors for too many men they’ve been assessed over their last three games against the Golden Knights. Poise will prevent them from taking boneheaded penalties for interference (looking at you, Jordan Greenway). When it seems the referees want to call anything and everything on you, play smart, move your feet and don’t give them a reason to look in your direction.
Now, granted, drawing penalties would usually be a good goal to work towards, but with the Wild only 1-for-27 at converting power plays at home and a league-worst 6.8% overall, maybe just keeping the game at 5-on-5 as long as possible is what Minnesota needs to focus on.