The Minnesota Wild are not playing to the level that we’ve seen them play to earlier in the season. Tonight, they’re taking on a struggling Philadelphia Flyers team with a chance to break out of this funk that they’ve thrown themselves into.
The Wild are sitting on a four-game losing streak with losses coming to the Calgary Flames twice, once at home and once on the road. They lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators as well. The performance to this point just hasn’t been up to par. However, the Flyers are not a good team sitting with a record of 16-27-10, and if the Wild (31-17-3) want to stop the descent in the standings, they need to win.
The Wild’s 5-1 loss against the Flames was pretty embarrassing . Although they generated slightly more expected goals for, per Evolving-Hockey, the defense was not good. Getting owned by Jacob Markstrom is not uncommon in the 2021-22 NHL season. The problem was the defense in the lower part of the zone and some pretty unfortunate bounces, especially on Mangiapane’s goal that put the Flames up 2-0.
The puck luck hasn’t been treating the Wild well over the last stint of games. However, they control their own destiny. The Flyers are not a team that the Wild should take for granted, especially lately since the hockey they’ve been playing looks considerably better despite the results not being there. But they are beatable. They’re 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and before their 2-1 victory against the Washington Capitals, they were on a six-game losing streak. They were shut out by the Edmonton Oilers in their most recent game.
The top contributor for the Wild over the last five games has been Kevin Fiala. He leads the team with three goals, four assists, and seven points. On the other side, it’s Travis Sanheim (yes, you read that right) leading with three assists and four points in the last five games. In the goals category, it’s Gerry Mayhew leading the charge. Since becoming a regular in the lineup, he has been one of the bright spots for this Flyers team. He works hard and is the kind of player that every coach loves to have on their team. He may only have six goals in 19 games with no assists, but there’s more to his game than the box score.
The Wild and Flyers both have below-average special teams, but the goaltending is where they’re separated. Despite having a rough stint, Cam Talbot still has above a .900 save percentage. However, Kaapo Kahkonen has been the real story. He has a .917 save percentage, and as of late, he has been the best goalie the Wild have thrown out on the ice.
One storyline coming out of tonight that The Athletic’s Michael Russo wrote about is Jared Spurgeon breaking the Wild’s record for games played as a defenseman in front of Nick Schultz—the current record holder.
Can the Wild win a very winnable game?
It’s relatively obvious, and I’ve already touched on it, but the Wild need to regain some confidence. Coming into Philadelphia for a road game against a beatable team is the perfect time to do it. It starts with playing shutdown defense against the Flyers’ top guys—Claude Giroux, Cam Atkinson, Joel Farabee, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and others. The defense against the Flames was extremely poor, and it’s not the type of defense that we’ve come to expect from them. Confidence is critical, and it’s the perfect time to regain it.
Can the Wild win the goaltending duel?
Hart is an extremely strong goaltender. It’s going to take a fair amount for the Wild to put pucks past him. The Wild need to win the goaltending duel tonight, not only if they want to get the win but also to help confidence in the net.