There comes a time in a regular season where you feel like everything has wrapped up. The playoff and non-playoff teams have already been decided or are just about to; there is only shuffling of pieces for matchups or homestands — all that is left is for fans of teams lower in the standings to want to lose more games to increase their draft lottery odds, or for fans of playoff teams to cross their fingers and just about every other appendage on their body for no injuries to happen before the post-season.
Well, when the Minnesota Wild host the Seattle Kraken tonight, it will certainly be “one of those games.” The Kraken are just nine points away from the very bottom of the overall standings, and the Wild are stuck in this mushy middle of the Central Division, in a battle for home-ice advantage with their first-round opponent, the St. Louis Blues. A win for the Wild would appease us, while a loss for the Kraken would appease those fans over there. There can be two cities celebrating on this Friday night, so why not just make it happen?
Surprisingly, the Kraken are on a three-game win streak, so they are feeling themselves after taking down the Colorado Avalanche earlier this week and might actually pose a threat as they try to settle their feet in their inaugural season. In those three wins, they have managed to hover around 27.5 shots per game and have allowed fewer or the same number of shots from their opponent. Now, it might just be the quality of their opposition. The Avalanche, of course, are the Colorado Avalanche, but they have also ripped apart the Ottawa Senators (allowing just 14 shots on goal from them) and had to win in a shootout against the New Jersey Devils — both teams battling for tanking spots and wanting this season to end as soon as possible. The Avalanche were the first playoff team they managed to get a win over this month.
For the Wild, this is just another game and the second half of a northwest back-to-back. They were able to quickly dismantle the Vancouver Canucks just last night, so with this team playing the way that they are, being up against the hollow and fragile Kraken, should be a somewhat easy task (hopefully).
Kevin Fiala is playing some of his best hockey right now and there is no reason he cannot keep rolling up against Seattle.
32 goals, 9 goals and 16 points in his past 8 games for Fiala— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 22, 2022
What he is doing, is unbelievable. The production is of course one thing and it is special to have a player just contributing points at that level, but scoring nine goals in eight games has helped the Wild tremendously. He is on a tear and at the perfect time since we are under two weeks away from the start of the playoffs.
Who knows what will happen tonight, but you know that his line with Frederick Gaudreau and Matt Boldy will try to create something.
Tyson Jost is returning to the lineup tonight after missing a number of games with an injury, and Jon Merrill will be coming back out for Jordie Benn, as the blue line has its natural rotation. The odd forward out will presumingly be Mitchell Chaffee, just because he’s the new rookie and everyone else is established enough, but it could be Nick Bjugstad just as easily, if head coach Dean Evason wants to give the younger guy more of a chance in the NHL.
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in between the pipes since Cam Talbot was yesterday.
Kirill Kaprizov—Ryan Hartman—Mats Zuccarello
Kevin Fiala—Frederick Gaudreau—Matt Boldy
Tyson Jost—Joel Eriksson Ek—Nick Bjugstad
Brandon Duhaime—Connor Dewar—Nicolas Deslauriers
Jake Middleton—Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin—Dmitry Kulikov
Jordie Benn—Alex Goligoski
Puck drops at 7:00 p.m.
Will Fleury establish himself as the Game 1 starter?
The big (and really, only) controversy surrounding this roster is in net. Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot have been jockeying back and forth and playing well enough to earn it and have the team be confident no matter who gets the start. Both netminders have been on top of their game since this new tandem was created at the trade deadline, so now the only question is: Who will start Game 1?
If you asked us a couple weeks ago, it would have been Fleury no question, but Talbot has had a decent run and could be considered. If Fleury is able to earn a shutout or rescue some sort of defensive disaster tonight, maybe he will put himself way in front.
Can we get some depth scoring?
It might just be Kevin Fiala doing what he is doing and the top line continuing to do what they do, but it seems like the scoring from the bottom-six has completely evaporated. There might be the occasional tally right now, but those two lines are doing the heavy lifting. Can maybe Duhaime get a weird goal tonight? Possibly Dewar get on the board again? That would be cool.