At first glance, coming off a 7-3 rout of the Edmonton Oilers, you might look at the Minnesota Wild’s next opponent, the Ottawa Senators, as an easy W. After all, they always seem to be continually rebuilding, fin themselves in the bottom-middle of a top-heavy Atlantic division, and currently sit 20 points out of a playoff spot.
But look a little deeper, and you might feel the need to go Admiral Akbar on the bit and avoid the obvious trap.
Yeah, the Sens have lost five of their last seven. But look back at their last few months, and you’ll find wins against the Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning - so their lineup is perfectly capable of skating with the best of the best.
The Sens’ recent losses have also coincided with some pretty significant injuries, including power-play quarterback defenseman Thomas Chabot, netminder Matt Murray, top goal scorer Josh Norris and top centerman Drake Batherson. Batherson is still out with a high ankle sprain and Norris was still skating with a non-contact jersey as of morning skate today, but Chabot is slated to return against the Wild, and Murray is healthy enough to return as well, though he will sit out tonight due to the birth of his child. Instead, Anton Forsberg will get the net for the Sens, while Filip Gustavsson spent exactly one day on the AHL roster before being brought back up.
2020 third-overall draft pick Tim Stützle has impressed in his second full season with the Sens and has been improving his two-way game since being moved to center on the top line between Brady Tkachuk and Adam Gaudette. Tkachuk just ended a pretty hot streak a couple games back after earning nine points in nine games (4 goals, 5 assists), and currently leads the team in points with 36.
On defense, now that Chabot is back, the Sens will have to rely less on 2017 first-round pick Erik Brannstrom, who can shoot the puck but hasn’t scored in nearly a calendar year, and has struggled defenseively with partner Josh Brown.
As for the Wild, their 7-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night was fun to watch, but looking closer at the numbers show a trend that has some advanced stats wonks worried. At five-on-five against the Oilers, the Wild were outshot (19-27), out-possessed (58-42% CF), and were absolutely buried in terms of expected goals (1.75-2.51). Kahkonen played well, and the combination of Mike Smith, who was chased in the first period after allowing four goals, and Mikko Koskinen, who gave up three the rest of the way, were awful. The Wild had poor possession numbers at even strength against the Florida Panthers the game before, and the Wild got stomped 6-2 against a team that is suited for playoff hockey.
A 31% team shooting percentage isn’t going to happen every night, especially against the top teams in the league.
Yes, the Wild should still absolutely take advantage of a Senators team with a backup goaltender, key members of the defense out or just returning off of injury, and missing two of their top point-getters. Just saying - the Wild need to come out to play and not take Ottawa for granted.
For the Wild, expect the same lines from Edmonton with Matt Dumba still out with a lower-body injury. That means another good look for Calen Addison, who impressed in his third-line role alongside Jon Merrill against the Oilers. Cam Talbot will get the net back for Minnesota.
Puck drops at 6 p.m. from the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
How will the Wild’s #depth show itself tonight?
Ok, ok. Russo and Carter made amends, so it’s probably time to drop the hashtag.
But seriously, all four lines were rolling offensively against Edmonton, and the only two offensive players that didn’t get on the scoreboard were Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway. The fourth line of Brandon Duhaime, Connor Dewar and Nick Bjugstad had good puck possession and put a jump in the Wild’s step that fueled the offensive output for the rest of the game. Matt Boldy and Kevin Fiala were dynamic, and while Kirill Kaprizov had a relatively quiet night, he still earned an assist on Eriksson Ek’s goal and was among the team leaders in expected goals for with .74 (matching linemates Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman).
Can we boldy predict a Boldy goal?
2022 has been fantastic for Boldy, as he now has 16 points in 16 games, including 8 goals and 8 assists. Since his NHL debut on January 6th, Boldy ranks second among rookies in goals (only one behind Toronto’s Michael Bunting with one more game in hand), third in assists and second in points (trailing the Florida Panthers’ Anton Lundell by 2). Boldy leads the rookie class in power play goals (3) and is third in power play points (6), and has two game-winning goals.
More than that, he’s looked like one of the best players on the ice as of late, and that’s saying a lot considering he shares a line with Kevin Fiala and a jersey with guys like Kaprizov and Zuccarello.
Boldy is yet to score goals in back-to-back games in his 16-game NHL career. I say it’s time. And a game-winner to boot.
How about those special teams?
Minnesota’s man advantage as been clicking lately with six goals on 14 opportunities over their last four games (42.9%), as the Wild rank 13th in the league at 21.2% on the season.
As for the penalty kill, well, there’s some work to be done as the Wild have allowed their opponents a power-play goal in seven of their last eight games. It hasn’t helped that they’ve had a tough time staying out of the box, offering up 26 chances over that span and currently rank 26th in the league in power play opportunities given up, and have the third-highest penalty minutes per game.
Ottawa’s not especially dangerous on the power play (27th at 16.3%), and while their penalty kill is pretty average (80.5%, 13th in the NHL), they too give up a good amount of chances (22nd in the league in PIMs). So the game could very well come down to special teams, and I would expect the Wild to win that battle.