Minnesota Wild (3-1-0) 6pts 2nd in Honda West
2.75 Goals For Per Game (18th in the NHL)
2.25 Goals Against Per Game (6th in the NHL)
5.0% Power Play (28th in the NHL)
92.3% Penalty Kill (2nd in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 1G 4A = 5pts
2. #14 Joel Erickson Ek ~ 2G 1A = 3pts
3. #24 Matt Dumba ~ 2G 1 A = 3pts
4. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 0G 3A = 3pts
5. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 0G 3A = 3pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 6PIMs
2. #27 Nick Bjugstad ~ 4PIMs
3. #90 Marcus Johansson ~ 4PIMs
1. #33 Cam Talbot ~ (2-1-0) 2.27GAA .926SV%
2. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen ~ (1-0-0) 2.00GAA .917SV%
San Jose Sharks (2-2-0) 4pts 6th in Honda West
2.75 Goals For Per Game (17th in the NHL)
3.50 Goals Against Per Game (26th in the NHL)
27.8% Power Play (8th in the NHL)
86.7% Penalty Kill (11th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #48 Tomas Hertl ~ 3G 3A = 6pts
2. #39 Logan Couture ~ 2G 2A = 4pts
3. #9 Evander Kane ~ 1G 3A = 4pts
4. #88 Brent Burns ~ 1G 2A = 3pts
5. #28 Timo Meier ~ 1G 2A = 3pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #9 Evander Kane ~ 14PIMs
2. #88 Brent Burns ~ 6PIMs
3. #62 Kevin Lebanc ~ 4PIMs
1. #31 Martin Jones ~ (2-1-0) 3.08GAA .893SV%
2. #40 Devan Dubnyk ~ (0-1-0) 4.23GAA .857SV%
San Jose Sharks
Parise – Rask – Kaprizov
Johansson – Bonino – Fiala
Greenway ~ Erickson Ek ~ Foligno
Sturm – Bjugstad – Hartman
Suter – Dumba
Brodin – Spurgeon
Cole – Soucy
Well, well, well. What do we have here? A Minnesota Wild sitting in second place in the Honda West Division. If you had asked me before this all started, I would not have made this particular prediction. Of course it definitely helps when you’ve only faced Los Angeles and Anaheim followed up with this 2-game series against San Jose starting tonight. Not exactly fearsome opponents. We won’t know what we really have until we face Colorado, Saint Louis, and Vegas. The first real test will come with the upcoming 4-game series (two home, two away) against the Avalanche next week. The important part though with this start and the current standings, is that Minnesota has taken advantage here early when they can. That’s the thing though. This is a team that in the past they would take struggling teams lightly. The fact that they appear to have not this season, is definitely a welcome change. I don’t know how long this ride will last, so enjoy it while we can.
So far, one major difference between this season and last season is the flip-flop between power play and penalty kill. Remember last season, where you wanted to hide beneath the blankets when the Wild went on the penalty kill? Well this season, it’s a much improved penalty kill. I’ll definitely take that, because if you can keep the opposition from scoring while a man down, that’s a good thing. Overall, the Wild are doing well at keeping the opposition off the board whether even strength or penalty kill. The problem though this season is the power play. When you have the extra skater, you certainly expect to have a better chance of scoring. What is confusing about this season’s power play compared to last season (and actually many past seasons), is this season they’re actually moving the puck quite well. When you watch other teams, and you see them moving the puck on the power play like Minnesota has, you often see goals. Yet Minnesota has only one power play goal. And the crazy part, that lone power play goal came from Nick Bonino, not Zach Parise or Kevin Fiala. Now that the first power play goal has happened, hopefully it’s just a sign of things to come and that they keep moving the puck like they have.
Another small concern is where the scoring is coming from. We’re not getting goals really from the top two lines. No, the bulk of the scoring so far, has comes from the 3rd and 4th lines. Last I looked, the bulk of your salary cap isn’t on the bottom two forward lines. They’re there for secondary scoring. When those lines score, they’re like bonus goals. Yes, you need all lines to score, including those bottom two lines, but you need the bulk of the scoring coming from the top two lines. That needs to change, and it needs to change soon. It’s not from lack of trying by the two lines, but for now, it’s just that the bottom two lines have been far more assertive on the forecheck. It has paid off, hopefully they can teach the skilled guys a thing or two. It’s still early in the season, but in a shortened season, we can’t really afford to wait around for things to change.
A pleasant surprise this season has been the play of Nico Sturm. And it’s that play that has allowed the fourth line to be as successful as it’s been this season. What is Sturm doing that others aren’t? Watch his play along the boards. He’s strong, and not afraid to fight for possession. It’s a bit of a dirty area to play, and for far too long, we’ve had players that are afraid to play that game. Another things he’s doing well (and it’s paying off for his linemates), is his strong play down low in the offensive zone. These two things either result in good scoring chances or goals, but it also has the ability to draw penalties. Sure, as I’ve already mentioned, the power play isn’t exactly successful so far this season, but eventually that has to change. With his great play, one has to wonder if he’ll ever get the chance to move up from the fourth line, with its limited ice time.
We also have finally seen this season’s debut of goaltender of Kaapo Kahkonen. Now, it wasn’t exactly a beautiful debut, but it was victorious. On Wednesday night, Kahkonen was definitely fighting the puck, and giving up far too many rebounds. In fact, it felt a bit like the first two games with Cam Talbot this season. Where too many of us were having Devan Dubnyk flashbacks. Even in his loss in the first game against Anaheim, Talbot certainly played a lot more calmly. He didn’t feel like he was continually out of position or just flopping around. In the case of Kahkonen though, this was his first NHL start since 2019. Kind of hard to get the feel of the NHL game, when your starts are few and far between. With the shortened season, I hope Kahkonen is given more than just a few token starts. I’ve always had issues when this team rides their primary goaltender as much as they do. Because when they do, and the unfortunate happens, then you’re left with a backup goaltender with little experience and then that backup is backed up by a callup from Iowa with even less NHL goaltending experience.
Tonight will be another test. Can the Wild continue to earn points against struggling teams? They definitely need to pad their place in the standings when they can. As I mentioned earlier, a true test is coming up, and coming up very soon. This may be considered insulting to Minnesota’s previous and current opponents this season, but these first six games almost feel like they’ve been pre-season games. Between these two games and the Colorado series, it will almost feel like we’ve jumped from the pre-season straight into the Western Conference Finals. Part of me wonders if Dubnyk will get the start for the Sharks tonight. And if he does, will we see the Dubnyk we got when he first started in Minnesota or the questionable Dubnyk that gave us absolute fits. One can only hope it’s the latter rather than the former.
So for now, enjoy the surprise of this season. I don’t know how much longer it will last. I for one will enjoy it while it does.