Suddenly, you look up, and the Minnesota Wild haven't lost in regulation since the Winter Classic.
The Wild will visit the New York Islanders on a tidy little four-game winning streak tonight. A mediocre team at 15-15-6, the Islanders currently sit comfortably out of a playoff spot in the muck and mire of the Eastern Conference. Hovering around teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres, the Islanders' point total skews the image of what this team is, having played only 36 games this season due to scheduling and COVID related issues. That mark is the lowest in the league — the Wild (39) and Senators (38) the only other teams with less than 40 GP — and perhaps we haven't got a clear idea of what this team is capable of.
Their goaltending duo of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have been amongst the league's best. Rocking a combined .922 Sv% and 2.40 GAA, they provide the Islanders with a safety net and a good shot at winning on any given night. All it would take is the team in front of them producing at even just the league average of 3.05 goals per game.
Which they can't.
Because this offense is atrocious and one of the worst in the league, 30th at 2.36 GF/GP. Mat Barzal is doing the heavy lifting — and some of the light lifting — with nine goals and 27 points. Only two players on the team have double-digit goal totals, and outside of Barzal and Brock Nelson, no Islander is on pace for 60 points. Lou Lamierello gets loads of credit for assembling "winners," but he should also get credit for unintentionally forming one of the worst forward groups we've ever seen. Anders Lee is a solid and good player, but he should be no team's third option if they have playoff aspirations.
Predictably, Barry Trotz is starting to fit some of the square pieces into the round holes and has this team playing better of late, going 7-3-0 in their last ten games. Only slightly worse than the team at the other end of the ice.
7-2-1 in their last ten games, and the Wild haven't looked back since falling to the St. Louis Blues on New Year's Day. A winning streak built on the backs of the team's strongest players, the Wild, have vaulted themselves back into the league's upper echelons in January. Sporting the second-highest points percentage in the Western Conference — their .705 mark is only behind the Colorado Avalanches .774 — the Wild have been showing off what makes them such a solid team.
Jared Spurgeon and Joel Eriksson Ek are both missing time? No problem, Matt Boldy and Calen Addison step right up.
Cam Talbot too hurt to play? Kaapo Kähkönen, you’re turn.
In January, they've averaged 4.33 GF/GP, supported by ten game scoring streaks for Mats Zuccarello (5G/13A) and Kevin Fiala (8G/5A). Kirill Kaprizov has also been on fire with five goals and 14 points in January. Boldy is playing so well you can't keep him out of the lineup, which is good because he's added another dimension to the Wild's powerplay. The whole team is riding high, getting healthier, scratching out wins against good teams and curb-stomping the bad ones.
Puck drop is at 6:30. Let's ride.
Should Dean Evason be "riding the hot hand" in net at this point?
Kähkönen has been seen as the goalie of the future for a couple of years now, but with Cam Talbots — and resurgence — last year, that idea was put on the backburner.
With Talbot's recent injury-related absence, Kähkönen was allowed to really run with the starter role, and he did. Across his six starts in January, Kähkönen went 5-0-1 while posting a .935 Sv% and 2.23 GAA.
Talbot hasn't performed as well as last season, and advanced numbers support that Kähkönen has been the better option when given a chance. Kähkönen has a 4.09 GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) compared to Talbot's -0.32 GSAA according to Evolving-Hockey.com.
Talbot hasn't stood out as a weakness for this team, but maybe it's time to give the better goalie (currently) more rope?
Can Zuccarello and Fiala make it 11?
Can the Wild get their first shutout of the season?
The Montreal Canadiens would have been the prime pick, but we settled for an 8-2 shellacking. Despite having a tandem of two good goalies, the Wild have yet to shut out a team this season.
Maybe the Islanders continue their strong play of late, but you would hope that you could stop a team with an offense as feeble as this one.