The Minnesota Wild’s fortune has turned around quickly.
During a brutal stretch in February, the Wild went 4-6-0 and brought up many questions about this team. Their identity and roster construction was brought into question. We wondered aloud and in private whether something drastic needed to happen to shake them out of the doldrums.
It turns out patience – and acquiring the reigning Vezina winner and curator of vibes, Marc-Andre Fleury – was critical, as this team has found itself back to their old, clockwork efficiency following a 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals. Kirill Kaprizov is setting franchise records; the GREEF line with Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno are as stable as ever. Fleury has fit right in, winning his first three starts and only letting in more than one goal in one of those starts.
He’ll likely get a chance to extend that winning streak, albeit the starter for tonight is unconfirmed.
Fleury will have his work cut out for him, facing two of the most potent offensive players at their positions in Roman Josi (18 goals, 63 assists in 66 GP) and Filip Forsberg (38 goals, 29 assists in 55 GP) lead the way for the Nashville Predators offense. Matt Duchene has had a bit of a comeback this season with 35 goals and 35 assists after becoming an afterthought in the last few seasons.
NHL goal leaders since Nov. 24
1. Auston Matthews: 47
2. Filip Forsberg / Kirill Kaprizov: 34
– Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) April 5, 2022
The Predators have a spade in net too, with 26-year old Juuse Saros playing at a near-Vezina level with .920 Sv% / 2.57 GAA goalie splits. It’s been a seamless transition after the departure of Pekka Rinne, and we can rightly hate the Predators for that.
But with the recipe for a dominant team there – Norris-level defenseman, Vezina-level goalie, elite-goalscorer – the Predators still find themselves fighting for a playoff spot. They currently hold the first Wild Card spot for the West but are in a dogfight along with the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars for it, with the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets within punching distance. Every point is crucial for the Predators in their remaining 14 games and the Wild will make them earn it if they can get any at all.
Kirill has four goals in the last five games and looks determined to sit atop the franchise-season highs in most categories by the end of the year. Joel Eriksson Ek has two goals and four assists in that same stretch while leading the defensive duties on the Wild’s go-to shutdown line with Foligno and Greenway. As a side note, Greenway has been playing the best hockey of his career the last few weeks and has looked like the team’s best player on some nights.
Everyone is rolling.
Puck drop is at 7; let’s get to the questions.
Can they keep Roman Josi off the board?
81 points in 66 games is absurd. I’m not sure if absurd encapsulates how bonkers it is for a defenseman to be producing at that rate. Josi factors in on 36% of all of the Predators’ goals. This isn’t a case of “where he goes, so does the offense” Roman Josi is the offense.
It’s going to be on the forwards to stop him from joining – or starting – the rush for the league’s 11th-ranked offense.
Will we get another stellar goaltending performance?
Since the trade deadline, the Wild have had the league’s best defense, averaging a paltry 1.63 GA / GP in eight games. Goaltending received the brunt of the blame for the slump in February, and it’s bounced back in a big way, as opponents have averaged 32 shots per game since the deadline.
We are firmly in 1A / 1B territory with Fleury and Talbot between the pipes, but with another tremendous showing from Fleury, could Fleury become the defacto starter?