For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
For every hockey team on a tear, another hockey team will be lost in the muck like Artax from “The Neverending Story.” The Arizona Coyotes are the horse drowning in the mud, and if I have this metaphor right, I think the Minnesota Wild is Falkor, the Luck Dragon.
The Coyotes are drowning under the weight of the league-worst offense — 2.43 goals for per game — and the third-worst defense with 3.78 goals against per game. Unlike the Montreal Canadiens, another team toiling away in the basement of the NHL while there isn't a Nick Suzuki or Cole Caulfield to bring the silver lining to a lost season. Clayton Keller is producing at an excellent clip of 28 goals and 63 points in 67 games, but even at 23-years old, this is his fifth year in the league, and he has yet to live up to the hype of the “Next Great American Winger.” Nick Schmaltz is also having a perfectly good statistical season with 55 points in 60 games, but he’s looked out of place in the first-line role that has been thrust upon him.
On defense, the reclamation project that is Shayne Ghostisbehere has been a pleasant surprise with 11 goals and 33 assists in his first season since being unceremoniously cast aside by the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s nice, and we should all be happy for him. The defacto best player Jakob Chychrun — who was rumoured to be moved at the deadline — won’t be seen on the ice tonight, as he’s been out with an ankle injury since early March.
Chychrun’s absence is one of a handful, as Arizona currently has a whopping eight players out with injury. Kyle Capobianco — a man you’ve definitely heard of before now with an unapologetically Italian name — is a game-time decision for tonight so that that number could hit nine players before puck drop. That running theme of injuries defines their season, as the Coyotes have lost a whopping 552 individual games to injury, compared to the Wild, having lost 144 games due to injury this season, as per @NHLInjuryViz.
No excuses, though, as this team wasn’t all that well built to begin with.
Karel Vejmelka gets his 48th start in his rookie campaign, where he has been mediocre despite a great start to the season. He’s got a .900 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 3.00.
On the flip side, the Wild are rolling out Marc-André Fleury, their “backup” goalie — who also happens to be the reigning Vezina Trophy winner — for his 10th start with the team. With an 8-1-0 record, a .911 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against-average, he’s been better than we could have hoped for.
Like Fleury, the Wild have been rolling since the trade deadline, with a league-best 15-1-3 record since March 21st, culminating in their current five-game winning streak.
Kirill Kaprizov has set franchise records and led this team with the tenacity and energy that earned him seven goals and 20 points in 13 games. But he hasn’t been the Wild’s best winger or player even. That’s been the supernova Kevin Fiala, who has been on an ungodly tear with ten goals and 23 points this month. He’s led a complimentary three-line attack, with Kaprizov’s line drawing the defensive attention and a Joel Eriksson Ek-led line drawing the most challenging opponents, leaving Fiala, Matt Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau to feast on the weak competition.
Injuries are starting to clear up just in time for the playoffs, too, as Marcus Foligno returns from COVID protocol tonight and Jordan Greenway comes back to reunite the GREEF line. Matt Dumba is still out, with Mats Zuccarello and Jared Spurgeon day-to-day with minor bumps.
Puck drops at 7: 00 p.m. CT; this should be easy.
Will the GREEF line pick up where they left off?
Joel Eriksson Ek had a great night with two AHL callups on his wings — Joseph Cramarossa and Connor Dewar — and didn’t miss a beat without Marcus Foligno or Jordan Greenway. With his two running mates healthy, head coach Dean Evason could use this game as a matchup heavy practice for the postseason. Will GREEF continue to do what they do and dominate the other team's top offensive unit?
Kevin Fiala, man.
Not a question, I know. He’s got five goals and ten assists in the last five games. But will Fiala continue to make his case about being an invaluable member of this team?