The anticipation for the latest Minnesota Wild game should be centered on the fact that it’s their inaugural matchup with the NHL’s newest club, the Vegas Golden Knights. Unfortunately, the Wild have given up 13 goals in the past two games in lopsided losses, so the focus is on how the Wild need to bounce back.
At least the Wild (11-10-3) are back home to finish up this trio of divisional games, so there’s that. They once again occupy the Central Division basement. It’s a contrast from the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights (15-7-1) who have surprised some around the league with their early success as an expansion team.
“It feels a little weird to say we are playing Vegas tonight,” said Jason Zucker, the only Vegas native in the NHL.
Vegas already set a record for the fewest games played to get to 15 wins (22 games). They are also the third NHL team in history to win 10 games within the first 16 games of the season. They just had a five-game winning streak snapped with their first-ever shutout loss, 3-0 to Dallas.
For the Wild, it’s a whole different story lately as they’ve struggled. They obviously need to tighten up the defense. This is a team that’s allowed four-plus goals in half their games this season. They’ve allowed 30 goals in their past seven games. That’s a tough mark to have for a team that had its best regular season last year and whose owner has come out and said he wants a Stanley Cup.
The Wild’s special teams have taken a hit recently as well, with the penalty kill surrendering multiple goals recently. It’s left them with a road penalty kill ranked 25th in the NHL. This game will be a good test to see if the Wild can maintain their second-ranked penalty kill at home (30-for-32).
With the Golden Knights being a new team this year, there’s no history to speak of between the two teams, except for the personnel. Notably, the Wild will see their former winger Erik Haula, who has seven goals and six assists this season, and Alex Tuch (five goals, five assists). Vegas signed Haula to a three-year deal over the summer as part of the expansion draft.
The Wild threw in top-prospect Tuch, as well.
Maybe Zucker can continue his hot streak this season and score against the team many thought he’d be playing for now. He has 13 points in his last 12 games and is the team leader in goals with 13, the only player in double-digits.
Eric Staal leads the Wild with 21 points (8-13—21); he also has scored a goal against every NHL team, except Vegas, obviously. Here’s the daily reminder that captain Mikko Koivu, with 11 assists this season, hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games. He only has four goals this season.
Forward David Perron leads the Golden Knights with 19 points in 27 games against the Wild; James Neal has 13 points in 22 games. William Karlsson leads the team overall with 13 goals and 22 points.
As for personnel changes with the Wild recently, they placed defenseman Kyle Quincey on waivers and he cleared. The Wild also got a familiar face back, claiming Elk River native Nate Prosser off waivers when the St. Louis Blues didn’t want his services anymore.
Before last game, it was thought Jared Spurgeon was out with an illness. It turns out he was sidelined with a groin strain. He’s out against Vegas and the timetable seems indefinite. Bruce Boudreau said, “He’s going to be out this weekend and it’s debatable if we take him on the trip.” The Wild head out to California next week to face Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.
Meantime, the Wild just need to find a way back onto the tracks and play some decent hockey against Vegas. The Wild will host the Golden Knights again on Feb. 2 before playing in Vegas March 16.
Jared Spurgeon (groin strain), 1 game
Zach Parise (microdiscectomy surgery), 23 games
Total man games lost: 60
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