It’s certainly been an inconsistent March for the Minnesota Wild, and it all started with the 5-4 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last Monday.
The Wild have been inconsistent in their play period to period. They’ll easily switch between being dominant to being complete passengers in the game. It all came to a head in the 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. After controlling play for the first 20 minutes and holding a 2-0 lead, they returned for the second period checked out and gassed, never looking back. With five unanswered goals, the team left goaltender Cam Talbot without help. No doubt the team will be excited to be back in Xcel Energy Centre tonight.
While the Wild were finishing up their mini-road trip through the desert regions, the Golden Knights used their two wins to fuel another two wins against the San Jose Sharks on the road. A 5-4 OT win — well, that looks familiar — and a one-sided 4-0 win. That shutout win was Marc-Andre Fleury’s second in his last five starts, where he has won all five games with a .955 Sv% and 1.38 GAA. He’s on a tear.
There are some things to be positive about with the Wild right now. While he hasn’t been lighting up the scoresheet since his healthy scratch, Parise has looked comfortable and a contributing member of a good-looking line with Kevin Fiala and Nick Bjugstad. They were one of the best lines on the team in the loss the other night, sporting an 80% xG, according to MoneyPuck.com.
Talbot also looked about as good as a goalie can look if they let in five goals as well.
The Vegas Knights are rolling, but it really feels like the Wild just needed some time off to get back to where we know they can be. One night off in Minnesota may not seem like much, but this has it in it to knock off the top team in the West Division on any night of the week. Carson Soucy taking Brad Hunt’s spot in the lineup looks to be the only major change in the roster, as Marcus Johansson and Ryan Hartman are still making their way back from injuries. Kaapo Kähkönen should be between the pipes.
Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. Let’s do the thing.
Full game effort?
Not looking for dominance, just a full 60-minute effort. The team took two periods off against the Coyotes, so I hope whatever rest they gleaned from that was worth it, as it cost them the game. This past week has seen the team take whole periods off, so can they keep up sustained pressure for the whole duration?
The Wild are the best first-period teams in the league right now with a +16 goal differential, so if they can repeat that success, all they need to do is not let their foot off the gas all the way.
Can the top-six return to form?
With injuries, there has been a lot of line-shuffling by coach Dean Evason, but the top two lines of late have been Kaprizov-Rask-Zuccarello and Foligno-Eriksson Ek-Greenway. According to Natural Stat Trick, they’ve typically controlled play when they are on the ice, but in the loss to the Coyotes, they had their heads caved in, to the tune of 22% xGF for both lines.
The Wild have typically succeeded because of their depth and consistency, so these two lines need to get things going again.
Can the Wild win the penalty battle?
The Wild have one of the lowest net penalties drawn/60 rates in the league with -0.22, good for 23rd in the league. The Knights have one of the highest — 0.28 NetPen/60 — which places them at eighth league-wide. Much was made of the 3-0 powerplay advantage the Knights had in their last matchup. The Wild will have to figure out how to draw more penalties than they take, seeing as the powerplay is putrid.