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Preview: Wild need a turnaround against Vegas

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Minnesota enters a critical stretch of the schedule

Minnesota Wild v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The last time the Minnesota Wild headed into T-Mobile Arena to take on the Vegas Golden Knights they were riding high on a six-game winning streak and pushing the top teams in the West division. It didn’t end as well as they’d hoped, as the normally defensively stingy Wild allowed 10 goals over a two-game sweep by the Knights.

This time, the Wild arrive in Sin City on a two-game losing streak and hasn’t played dominant hockey since taking care of business against the Arizona Coyotes on March 16th. Sure, they won games against the division-worst Anaheim Ducks and stole a single bout against the St. Louis Blues, but nothing about those wins was convincing and the Wild have been frequently outshot and outchanced as of late, including over their last two losses against the San Jose Sharks.

No word yet on the starting goaltender or any lineup changes, but after uninspired efforts lately, one has to think they’ll be coming - at least at the center position.

Our own justinhein123 gave his own idea on how to juggle things up in his recap of last night’s game, and it looked a little something like this:

Zuccarello-Eriksson Ek-Kaprizov

Fiala-Johansson-Hartman

Greenway-Bonino-Sturm

Rask-Bjugstad-Johnson

It couldn’t possibly be worse than how the “Victor Rask as a first-line center” experiment has looked over the last half dozen games.

On the other side of the ice, the Golden Knights have been up and down as of late, splitting series against the Los Angeles Kings (twice) and the Colorado Avalanche. Fortunatley, the Wild can look forward to the fact that Vegas will be missing their own top-line center, as NHL Player Safety announced today they dropped the hammer on Vegas’ Chandler Stephenson for an high elbow he laid on the Kings’ Tobais Bjornfot.

Also helping Minnesota’s pause tonight may be the fact that recent Wild killer Marc-Andre Fleury is reportedly slated to see the bench in favor of Robin Lehner.

Minnesota’s starting goaltender has not yet been named, but since Kaapo Kahkonen got the go last night against the Sharks, one would have to assume Cam Talbot will get the crease tonight.

Tonight starts a span of two against the Golden Knights, two against the Avalanche, and three straight against the Blues. The Wild still own a six-point standings lead over St. Louis for the third spot in the West (and a seven-point cushion against Arizona for a playoff spot), but if the Wild repeat their effort over the next seven games like they did the last seven, those leads will evaporate quickly.

The good news - the Wild can’t possibly look worse than the new Bally Sports North graphics, amirite?

Sigh. No time like the present to turn things around. Puck drops in a late one (again) at 9:30 p.m.

Burning Questions

*Insert question about power play here*

Since scoring power play goals in back-to-back games against the Anaheim Ducks, the Wild are on another 0-for-5 cold streak. And after not even getting a single chance in the first game versus the Sharks, the Wild managed only two shots on two chances last night. Hell, the Sharks had almost as many scoring attempts on the Wild power play than the Wild did.

The Golden Knights have allowed the second fewest goals all season, own the NHL’s third best penalty kill and are one of the Wild’s stingiest opponents when it comes to committing penalties against Minnesota (only 4.5 minutes per game), so the Will will really have to push to get it done with the man advantage - if they even get the chance.

Can the Wild shut down the Vegas power play?

Minnesota is 17-4-1 when they blank their opponent’s power play this season. Vegas’s man advantage ranks 21st in the league, converting only 19% of their opportunities. And the Wild have shutout Vegas on the man advantage three of their four games.

On the flip side, the Wild are 4-7-1 when they give up a power play goal.

Everything lines up to look really good for the Wild’s 5th-ranked penalty kill, and it’s clear that they’ll need to keep that up to better their chances of turning things around tonight.

Can the Wild get back to playing a strong puck possession game at 5 on 5?

Some of the downfalls of Minnesota’s game over the past few has been possession, zone entries and allowing high-danger chances - all of which the Wild have been uncharacteristically struggling at recently. During the Wild’s hot stretch between February 18 and March 16 where they went 12-2-1, the team averaged a Corsi For percentage of over 48.2% and an expected goals for percentage of 54.5%. Not elite possession numbers, but certainly good. And way better than the last seven games, where the Wild only managed an average CF% of 40.3% and an abysmal xGF% of 38.1%.

We know what to expect from the Wild on special teams - the good and the bad. But the Wild have made their 5-on-5 play their calling card this season. Can the Wild take the first step and improve their possession and shooting numbers tonight against the Golden Knights?