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Preview: Shorthanded Wild welcome Metro-leading Capitals

Washington comes to town to take on most of the Iowa Wild.

Washington Capitals v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Wow, what a 48 hours it’s been in the Minnesota Wild universe. From the heights of excitement over prospects Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi making their NHL debut, to the idea that, in addition to all of the other injuries and illnesses currently depleting the roster, Wild star Kirill Kaprizov may miss an extended amount of time after a questionable (at best) hit from Trent Frederic in Minnesota’s losing streak-ending 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.

But the hits (no pun intended) keep on coming, as The New York Times’ Athletic’s Michael Russo reported that the Wild’s defensive corps, already missing Jared Spurgeon and Nick Bjugstad, will likely be missing Jonas Brodin once again - this time, to injury rather than COVID.

So, without their leading scorer (Kaprizov), their top centerman (Joel Eriksson Ek), three key defensemen, their top goaltender (Cam Talbot), one of their most physical players (Jordan Greenway) and a solid depth forward (Brandon Duhaime), what’s left of the Minnesota Wild will welcome the Metropolitan-leading Washington Capitals, led by Alexander Ovechkin, who currently sits second in the NHL in goals and third in points.

For those who have been clamoring for a good long look at Boldy and Rossi, your monkey paw wish has come true. NHL.com’s Jessi Pierce tweeted out the lines from Friday’s practice - and updated later that Marcus Foligno’s absence from practice was maintenance-based (thank merciful God), and Moose will be available to take on #ALLCAPS.

Various Wild newshounds also reported that Kyle Rau has been called up from Iowa, so he’ll likely take the third line spot from defenseman-playing-placeholder Dakota Mermis.

As for all those Caps, as of Friday afternoon, they currently sit tied atop the Metropolitan division standings with the New York RaReangers, having failed to claim the spot to themselves in a loss to the St. Louis Blues on Friday night. Despite the 5-1 loss, the Caps still rank amongst the top in the league in goals scored (5th place before Friday’s loss), goals against (7th), and they own the 8th best penalty kill at 82.8%. Only their power play is sub-par, ranking 29th in the league coming into Friday night.

Ovechkin has continued his strong season as of late, earning five goals and 12 points in his last 10 outings. Defenseman John Carlson is also on a point-per-game pace over his last ten, with three goals and seven helpers.

And while the Wild are missing many of their stars due to injury, the Caps have been bit with the illness bug, recently missing players such as forwards Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie and netminder Vitek Vanacek with first COVID, then a flu that has been making its way through the Washington locker room. The Capitals welcomed back defenseman Dmitry Orlov versus the Blues, who had missed time with an upper-body injury.

In net, Ilya Samsonov has had the net to himself with Vanacek out, but he may not get the call against the Wild after earning a .876 save percentage in his last four outings and getting chased from the game against St. Louis. Backup goaltender Zachary Fucale finished out the game against the Blues, and may get only his second start of the season in St. Paul.

Tonight’s Wild/Caps affair is the last date on the schedule until next Friday thanks to their road trip through Canada being postponed due to COVID, so let’s hope they can a) sneak out a win against a talented team, and b) not lose any more players to injury. At this point, I’d settle for column B.

Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center for the first time since way back on December 16th.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild stay healthy?

That’s it. That’s the question. They’ve got a week after tonight to heal up, and hopefully get most of their big named players back. Win or lose, the Wild would have to be happy to just survive the Caps.

Can Kahkonen carry the team?

Last season, with the team coming off a COVID layoff and Cam Talbot in and out of the lineup, rookie netminder Kaapo Kahkonen had a hell of a run, then fell apart down the stretch. When the Wild absolutely need him to put the team on his shoulders, Kaapo can. And boy, do they need him to carry the water now. Kahks had a strong game against the Bruins and has a .943 save percentage over his last five outings (including pitching a shutout in relief of Talbot during the third period of the Winter Classic. Can Kahkonen put on the cape and be the hero this team desperately needs right now?