On Saturday night, the Minnesota Wild had a gut check against the Carolina Hurricanes as the storyline heading into the game was, “how would the Wild, a potential cup contender, fare against another playoff powerhouse?”
Having passed the test against Carolina, this time the Wild get to play the role of playoff litmus test against the Detroit Red Wings, who have won their last two and four of their last six after some rough spots in their schedule, and currently find themselves back over .500 and just seven points out of a wild card spot.
For a team that was predicted by some to finish near the cellar in the Atlantic division after an rebuilding offseason where general manager and Hockeytown legend Steve Yzerman was tasked with ridding the roster of bad contracts, the Red Wings have outperformed expectations. Like many rebuilding teams that manage to find some success, Detroit has been hot and cold at times, with four-game losing streaks followed by three- and five-game winning streaks.
Instrumental to the Wings success has been Tyler Bertuzzi, who has 42 points in 41 games and is second on the team in goals only to Dylan Larkin. Winging It In Motown recently named Bertuzzi as one of the Wings most overperforming players, and it’s easy to see why. Bertuzzi is near the top of the NHL in shooting percentage at 22.3%, and is on a point-per-game pace (42 points in 41 contests) for the first time in his career. Bertuzzi will have cold streaks, but when he’s hot he’s hot, and the Wild better watch out as the Wings forward has 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) over his last 11 games.
Beyond the top six, however, the Red Wings have little in the way of depth and are currently even more hamstrung by a slew of injuries and illnesses. Detroit is currently missing Vladislav Namestnikov, Mitchell Stephens, Carter Rowney and Riley Barber due to injury. Of the group, Namestnikov is questionable to return against the Wild. And even when they are healthy, middle six guys like Pius Suter and Adam Erne have not lived up to expectations, especially Erne, who co-led the Wings in goals a year ago.
But while the offense has shown some spark, the defensive core of the Red Wings has struggled this year, as the group runs the gamut from young guns like Moritz Seider to aged veterans like Marc Staal. Throw in a down year from former Wild prospect Nick Leddy, and it’s no wonder the Wings currently rank fourth-worst in goals allowed.
In goal, expect offseason trade acquisiton Alex Nedeljkovic to get the start against the Wild’s Kaapo Kahkonen in a matchup of young, talented but sometimes streaky netminders.
Bottom line, for the Wild, this is a game they should absolutely win if the offense and defense has been clicking like it has - even without Marcus Foligno for the second game of his two-game suspension, and without Matt Dumba, who showed back up on the injury report with a lower-body ailment that, according to a Michael Russo tweet, sounds like it is concerning for Dean Evason.
The Wild will play their second of only three home games in February tonight, so let’s see if Minnesota can take advantage of the home cooking with some post-Super Bowl party wings.
Puck drops at 7 p.m.
Can the Wild stay gritty without Dumba and Foligno?
Shutting down a player like the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Bertuzzi will require some physical play. We know Jordan Greenway can bring it.
But without hit leader Foligno and physical defenseman Dumba out of the lineup, can Minnesota shut down and wear out the Wings top line?
What will Kaprizov do tonight?
Dolla Bill’s been worth more than a Benjamin lately, with 22 points over his last 14 games and a highlight-reel worthy play just about every night. Kaprizov has yet to play the Red Wings in his NHL career, though he no doubt followed the career of Team Russia teammate Pavel Datsuyk growing up. What has the electric Kaprizov got in store for another State of Hockey crowd?