Minnesota Wild (33-26-7) 73pts 5th in the Central
3.14 Goals For Per Game (15th in the NHL)
3.09 Goals Against Per Game (20th in the NHL)
21.1% Power Play (13th in the NHL)
76.4% Penalty Kill (27th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 21G 30A = 51pts
2. #12 Eric Staal ~ 19G 28A = 47pts
3. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 7G 38A = 45pts
4. #11 Zach Parise ~ 24G 19A = 43pts
5. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 14G 20A = 34pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 69 PIM’s
2. #19 Luke Kunin ~ 55 PIM’s
3. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 47 PIM’s
1. #32 Alex Stalock (19-10-4) 2.59GAA .911%SP 4SO
2. #40 Devan Dubnyk (11-15-2) 3.34GAA .892%SP 1SO
San Jose Sharks (29-33-4) 62pts 6th in the Pacific
2.61 Goals For Per Game (27th in the NHL)
3.18 Goals Against Per Game (25th in the NHL)
15.9% Power Play (27th in the NHL)
86.5% Penalty Kill (1st in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #88 Brent Burns ~ 12G 32A = 44pts
2. #9 Evander Kane ~ 24G 19A = 43pts
3. #28 Timo Meier ~ 21G 22A = 43pts
4. #39 Logan Couture ~ 16G 23A = 39pts
5. #62 Kevin Lebanc ~ 14G 18A = 32pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #9 Evander Kane ~ 118 PIM’s
2. #28 Timo Meier ~ 40 PIM’s
3. #62 Kevin Lebanc ~ 36 PIM’s
1. #30 Aaron Dell (12-14-2) 2.94GAA .907%SP
2. #31 Martin Jones (17-19-2) 2.97GAA .898%SP 2SO
San Jose Sharks
Western Conference Wildcard Race
1. Vancouver Canucks 66GP ~ 34-26-6 74pts
2. Winnipeg Jets 68GP ~ 34-28-6 74pts
3. Arizona Coyotes 68GP ~ 33-27-8 74pts
4. Minnesota Wild 66GP ~ 33-26-7 73pts
5. Nashville Predators 66GP ~ 32-26-8 72pts
This is the daily progress report that most Wild fans likely are mulling over as they consider whether their team has a real shot at making the playoffs or not. After Minnesota’s 3-1 win over Nashville, the team moved ahead but still was out of a wildcard spot due to a Winnipeg victory. With games in hand on the Jets and Coyotes the Wild certainly have an opportunity to gain ground, so in the words of former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “just win, baby!”
The last time these two teams played in St. Paul on February 15th, the injury-decimated Sharks embarrassed the Wild in one of their more lackluster efforts of the season. Sharks’ goaltender Martin Jones got his first win since November, in a 2-0 shutout. It was Dean Evason‘s first game as the bench boss of the Minnesota Wild and the team was about as flat as can be but you would not have known that if you just listened to the post-game quotes where Evason looked like a deer in headlights as he felt the team played pretty well. Fortunately for us all, the team did eventually match its rose-colored post game comments in the next few games. Either way, I hope the team remembers how poorly they played in that game (post game comments be damned) and plays inspired hockey.
One player who has been playing inspired hockey has been Kevin Fiala. Fiala, was last week’s NHL player of the week and he continues to dazzle with 1-on-1 moves and a goal scoring touch that Minnesota hasn’t seen since Marian Gaborik. Fiala will no doubt be San Jose’s defensive focus, so hopefully the Wild can get contributions from Zach Parise, Luke Kunin, or Ryan Donato who needs more ice time and opportunity.
Donato is one of the most productive players in the NHL given his limited ice time playing on the Wild’s 4th line. The play of the Wild’s 4th line has been a source of strength lately with team captain Mikko Koivu embracing the role and Ryan Hartman providing plenty of grit along with Donato. Yet Donato’s scoring ability suggests he could help the team even more if he was given some chances on the power play. The team is not getting almost anything out of Eric Staal and Mats Zuccarello these days, so it would be nice to see if they could give some of those power play minutes to Donato instead.
San Jose did not have Logan Couture available when we played the Sharks on February 15th, but they do now and he has been a thorn in Minnesota’s side in the past. Shutting down that line should be placed on modified 2nd line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Parise and Kunin.
Between the pipes, I’d assume Alex Stalock gets the start while I think we might see Aaron Dell for the Sharks. Although considering Martin Jones got a shutout last time, perhaps the Sharks deploy him again just to mess with the Wild’s mental state.
The Sharks defeated Toronto on Tuesday, a team desperate for points in its own playoff race should indicate to the Wild that San Jose is not going to be a pushover. They might be out of the running for a playoff spot, but they are playing with pride and relishing the chance to be a spoiler. And in the past the Sharks have always been a bit fiesty when playing the Wild and I think there is a fair chance we might see more of that tonight.
What will be the keys for a Wild victory?
1. Kill the crowd ~ The SAP Center has a reputation for being a loud, raucous crowd and the Wild would be well-served to silence it by giving the Sharks fans little to cheer about. If the fans are kept mostly mute by Minnesota outworking the Sharks, the less inspired they play and perhaps they accept fate and give in. Yet if the Wild let the crowd get behind this Sharks squad, Minnesota could find itself in deep trouble. If the Wild can managed to score early is a good way to keep the crowd silent.
2. Stay out of the Shenanigans ~ The Sharks can be more than a bit chippy, and the Wild would be well-served to stay out of that nastiness. Evander Kane loves to agitate. Minnesota would be wise to just stick to scoring goals and dousing any impulses to retaliate by simply beating them on the scoreboard. Dropping the gloves risks not only injury but a fair chance you get the crowd into the game which is something we’ve already stated is something you don’t want.
3. Pay the Price ~ I know I say this one a lot in my game previews, but as the games become more intense it often demands a greater physical price to make plays. That means going into the high traffic areas of the ice, especially in and around the opposing goal. Minnesota would be well-served to make Dell or Jones feel as uncomfortable as possible. Avoiding the middle of the ice and just sending shots from the perimeter isn’t going to get it done. We have to play like a team that wants it more, and that might mean taking a hit or risking one to make the necessary plays.
What do you think will be keys to a Wild victory this evening? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!