If Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin is still on the fence as to whether or not he needs to make a move prior to the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday, he’s got one more opportunity to get a good look at the team he’s got as the Chicago Blackhawks come to town on Saturday afternoon.
Guerin’s only pre-deadline move so far, dealing Nico Sturm to the Colorado Avalanche for Tyson Jost, didn’t have a direct impact on the Wild’s 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins last Wednesday, but it’s clear that the move may have woken up the roster as Minnesota came out strong against a hot team that had won 10 of their prior 12 contests. The Wild’s third line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno was especially strong, getting all over the Bruins and ended up scoring the game winner in the third period.
Minnesota certainly has an opportunity to keep the momentum against a Blackhawks squad that they’ve had the number of this season, winning all three matchups so far by a combined score of 14-4. The Wild’s top line has particularly shined against Chicago with 12 points over those three games, led by Mats Zuccarello’s six points, scoring multiple points in every game against the Blackhawks this season. Kirill Kaprizov, who is coming off a two-goal effort against the Bruins, has four points in the season series with the Blackhawks.
As the case has been during the Wild’s recent rough patch, the concerns continue to be the goaltending and special teams. Cam Talbot will get the net riding a three-game winning streak, but owns a .894 save percentage despite earning the “W” against the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Bruins. Meanwhile, the Wild’s power play has been clicking as of late finding paydirt in four of their last five outings, but it’s been five games since Minnesota’s been able to hold a team without a power play goal - and that’s only because the Rangers weren’t able to draw a penalty back on March 8. Other than that aberration, since the last time Minnesota faced off against the Blackhawks back on Feb. 2, the Wild have allowed 20 goals on 57 opportunities, for a woeful 65 percent success rate.
The Blackhawks are in the same boat special teams wise, tied with the Wild on the PP (17th in the NHL) and two spots better on the PK (23rd vs. 25th). The biggest difference is at even strength, where the Wild still rank 3rd in the league in goals (149) compared to the Blackhawks, who are tied for dead last with 133 goals at 5-on-5.
Things won’t get much easier for Chicago in terms of goal scoring as the Blackhawks dealt away the teams’ second-leading goal scorer and fourth-highest points getter Brandon Hagel earning a massive haul from the Tampa Bay Lightning. In dealing Hagel and a pair of fourth-round draft picks (one in 2022 and one in 2024), the Blackhawks get back two first-round selections (2023 and 2024), as well as young forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh. To replace Hagel in the lineup, the Blackhawks have called up 2019 second-round pick Alex Vlasic, who will make his NHL debut.
The Blackhawks may not yet be done selling, as Chicago is reportedly starting Kevin Lankinen in net and leaving veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury on the pine. There’s no word yet if a trade is imminent, but Fleury has earned a lot of attention as the deadline has approached as a possible trade target.
The rebuilding Blackhawks should be prime pickings for the Wild, though Minnesota has struggled against beatable teams lately, earning tight wins against squads like the Red Wings or Philadelphia Flyers, and dropping a 4-3 decision to the Ottawa Senators back in late February. Does Guerin finally have the attention of the team, and can they continue the strong play they showed on Wednesday night?
Puck drops at 1:00 p.m.
How about that Dolla Bill Kirill?
With 13 points in his last 10 games, the Wild’s struggles sure aren’t because their elite forward hasn’t been footing the bill. Reportedly “pissed” at the team’s struggles, Kaprizov has been powering though night after night, earning two goals Wednesday against the Bruins after his eight game points streak was ended against the Nashville Predators. Can Kaprizov start another streak with a strong performance against the Blackhawks?
Will Talbot force Guerin’s hand one way or another?
I know Guerin has told reporters (like Michael Russo) that they can’t trade their way out of their problems, meaning that team complacency and attitude isn’t going to be suddenly turned off by bringing in a big name. But with the way Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen have been playing lately, perhaps bringing in a new face in net ala Devin Dubnyk in years past might be what’s required to right the ship. The goaltender market is pretty thin, so maybe there isn’t a move to be made, but you’ve got to think that either a stellar performance - or a terrible one - may move the needle towards Guerin making a trade deadline decision. Guerin and coach Dean Evason reportedly have all the confidence in the world in their netminders. Let’s see if that’s still the case after the Wild take on the Blackhawks.