The Minnesota Wild are headed to Texas y'all.
When they get there, they'll find a surging Dallas Stars team that has been fighting for their lives since the turn of the calendar. Since January 1, the Stars have gone 27-15-2, the eighth-best record in the league behind teams like Toronto Maple Leafs and only slightly better than the Wild's 26-12-4. It's been crucial, as the Stars began the season on all the sour notes suffering injuries and puttering out of the gates with 15 wins in their first 29 games. Not a great way to kick off a season for a team with championship aspirations.
22-year-old Jason Robertson, the rightful runner-up to last year's Calder Memorial Trophy, leads the way for the Star's offense. An impressive feat for a forward group that features Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski. He's built on his spectacular rookie campaign — 17 goals and 28 assists in 51 games — with 34 goals and 34 assists in 65 games. Only Joe Pavelski averages more ice-time than Robertson, and that's justified, as the ex-San Jose Sharks captain has been quietly fantastic, tallying 27 goals and 46 assists in 73 games. A point-per-game pace for a 37-year-old grey beard is incredible.
Jamie Benn is as annoying as ever and will likely score an accompanying annoying goal, seeing as he loves to play against the Wild. 42 points in 47 career games against the Wild, and we've hated every one.
On the back-end, the Stars are likely pleased not to have moved John Klingberg at the trade deadline, as they were rumoured to be looking into. The soon-to-be UFA leads all Stars defensemen with two goals and seven assists since March 21. It's a gamble to keep him around, but it may pay off if the Stars hold onto a playoff spot, as they are currently sitting in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Our old friend Ryan Suter is just his same old self, anchoring the Star's defensive group with Miro Heiskanen, where both are averaging around 24 minutes of ice time per game. His mud-like skating isn't an issue when paired with a dynamic defenseman like Heiskanen, something that the Wild have lacked since the days of Brent Burns (although Matt Dumba is pretty close.)
Dallas came into this year's season with a million goalies — figuratively speaking —under contract to start the season, with Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger all on the roster not to mention acquiring Scott Wedgewood from the New Jersey Devils.
Oettinger has taken the reigns with a .914 save percentage (Sv%) and a 2.53 goals-against average. Not mind-blowing numbers, but enough to get him to a 26-13-1 record and propel the Stars back into relevance after starting the season slowly.
We'll be spared from Oettinger tonight as Wedgewood will be getting the start, and he'll be facing off against Marc-André Fleury on the other end.
Marc-Andre Fleury will start for #mnwild. 12th straight game Wild have rotated goalies. All indications are Nic Deslauriers will return. If not, Connor Dewar will play.— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 14, 2022
This will be Fleury's first start since Sunday's 6-3 thwomping of the Los Angeles Kings.
Jon Merrill is unlikely to play, but he is with the team on the trip. Dumba is still out and is back in Minnesota.
Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala will look to continue cutting through their opponents like a screaming-hot knife through butter, with a combined six goals and ten points in the last five games.
The Wild are coming together at the right time. The GREEF-line — Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno — continues with machine-like efficiency, Kirill and Mats Zuccarello do their thing, and the combination of Frederick Gaudreau, Matt Boldy, and Fiala improves with every passing day. This is a scary offense with depth, and they should be licking their chops to get at a struggling goaltender.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. CT.
Can the Wild keep Jason Robertson at bay?
At only 22-years old, it's bonkers to think we are here, but we are. Robertson is the focal point of a Star's offense that scores a 20th-ranked 2.89 goals per game. If you shut him and his line with Roope Hintz and Pavelski, the Stars can't reliably create offense outside of their 12th-ranked powerplay.
This brings up the next Burning Question.
As entertaining as the extra-curricular stuff was against the Edmonton Oilers, can the Wild stay focused on playing whistle-to-whistle?
The Wild need to gear up for the playoffs, and the Stars are desperate to scratch every available point out of their remaining games. Benn and Radulov are yappy players and will feed off the frustration they create. The powerplay isn't as dangerous as the one they faced on Tuesday, but if the Wild get wrapped into pushing and shoving after the whistle, the Stars will have a fighting chance in this one.