The Minnesota Wild have changed since they suffered a 6-4 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Blues at the Winter Classic.
While that loss was the lone defeat for the Wild in January, it was a turbulent path of ups and downs after that. But that was before, and with a few tweaks and alterations, this team has a whole new feel compared to that squad.
Kirill Kaprizov is rolling, setting franchise records, dragging this team through the season’s final month, and slowly creeping his way into the Hart Trophy conversation. He won’t win MVP, but 40 goals and 87 points in 68 games are damn deserving of the consideration.
Marc-André Fleury – 3-1-0 in his first four starts with the Wild – and a revitalized, resurgent Cam Talbot – a .924 Sv% / 2.19 GAA and 9-0-1 in his last ten starts – have provided the Wild with the steady goaltending they were lacking during their low points. Heck, if Talbot was playing this way before the deadline, the move to acquire Fleury and cut bait on a promising young Kaapo Kähkönen likely never happened.
The Wild have been growing into their roster’s new makeup. With 21 penalty minutes in the first period alone, their truculence got away from them at the start of their 6-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. Still, the addition of Jacob Middleton and Nic Deslauriers have certainly made the team harder to play against. It’s just going to be critical that their grit and sandpaper don’t hand their opponents a pile of powerplay opportunities like it did against the Predators.
They face the league’s 3rd-best powerplay tonight, where noted Wild-killers David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko have generated the bulk of their points with off-season acquisition Torey Krug operating from the point. If the Wild intends to be rough, they will pay for it dearly against this unit. Especially with Jordan Kyrou lurking in the weeds (if he does play), looking to make a repeat performance of his four-point outing at the Winter Classic.
Jordan Binnington likely won’t get the start, despite possessing the 8th-most expensive goalie contract in the league. Frankly, he’s sucked this year, with a .899 Sv% and a 13-13-4 record. That pill has been easier to swallow, but this year, not the remaining six on Binnington’s deal, because backup Ville Husso has come out of nowhere to claim the starting role. He’s been a revelation, with a .924 Sv% / 2.36 GAA. According to Evolving Hockey’s WAR-metric, he has been the 11th-best goalie in the league, slightly just behind Andrei Vasilevsky of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For the Wild, Talbot will be in the net to face a team he has had much success against in his career. In 19 starts, he’s only won seven games against the Blues, likely due to his .899 Sv%.
Matt Boldy, Jon Merril and Matt Dumba are all out tonight.
Puck drop is at 7:00 pm sharp. To the Burning Questions!
Will the Wild’s “toughness” get in the way of winning?
Twenty-one penalty minutes in the first period against Nashville, and their loss was built on allowing three powerplay goals in the first period. That was against the 6th-ranked powerplay, and the Blues are better.
Being “tough to play against” is an admirable goal, but if it means getting your lights punched out on the scoreboard, it doesn’t amount to squat.
With Matt Dumba out, how does Jordie Benn perform?
A brutal injury to happen and on a late hit, no less. With Dumba hurt, we were all hoping for Calen Addison SZN, but instead, Evason and Co. decided to try the Jordie Benn experiment again.
He looked good early in the season. Can he at least be a net-neutral when on the ice tonight?