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  • Depth and Newcomers Carried the Wild This Weekend

    Aaron Heckmann

    The Minnesota Wild closed out their weekend with a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings after beating the Anaheim Ducks the day before. The Wild are 2-0 and have the best record in the Central Division.


    But it wasn't the stars who propelled them to victory. Minnesota's depth and newcomers were the most significant factors in their success.


    Brandon Duhaime, Nico Sturm, and Nick Bjugstad were fantastic on the fourth line. After making the team out of camp over the Wild's top prospects, Duhaime impacted both games. He didn't record a point, but he had a gritty goal reversed, was fast and aggressive, and often resembled a miniature Marcus Foligno. Duhaime controlled an almost impossible 98% of the expected goals share in Anaheim. While he wasn't as good against the Kings, it was still a strong debut weekend for the hard-working rookie.


    Another newcomer who stood out was center Frederick Gaudreau. He is one of the biggest storylines to begin the season because he is centering Kevin Fiala, and it will be interesting to see if that combination will work out. They started strong, as Gaudreau scored a goal over the weekend and had five shots alongside Fiala, controlling the play as well. He was one of the few Wild players who displayed consistency all weekend.


    Marcus Foligno remains an irreplaceable player on the Wild. He has become a weapon in Minnesota because of his superior defensive play, physicality, and offensive impact. The game-winning goal came off his stick with seven seconds remaining against the Ducks. He's building on his career year with two points through two games so far.


    Ryan Hartman and Victor Rask also scored goals in the victory against the Kings. It wasn't a surprise to see Hartman having an impactful weekend, but Rask was fantastic in both games. The defensive additions -- Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, and Jon Merrill -- had solid Wild debuts against the Ducks, even if they struggled against the Kings.


    The Wild's stars weren't invisible through two games, but Kirill Kaprizov, Fiala, and Joel Eriksson Ek were relatively quiet. The three of them have a combined four points, and only Fiala has scored a goal. Again, it wasn't as though they weren't effective; all three had a pair of solid outings. But it's the depth that came through in important moments.


    While the Wild won both games, they were challenging. "These weren't easy games," Kulikov said. "The game against Anaheim and then today, these are teams that play a defensive style, and it's tough to get through and get some chances with them. We stuck with it. It was a tight game out there. We came out on top in both games. Just keep going and build our game from that."


    The wins may not have been the prettiest, but there are a lot of positives from the weekend. In the Ducks game on Friday, the Wild had a substantial edge in the shot and expected goal department. The Wild controlled over 75 percent of expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5. While the scoresheet read 2-1, the Wild dominated the play at even-strength, and the game could've been much uglier.


    After John Gibson suddenly became unavailable for the game due to an injury, Anthony Stolarz played and was rock solid in net, posting a .953 save percentage and saving 1.49 goals above expected. To put it simply, Stolarz kept the Ducks in the game.


    On the other hand, the Kings put up a better fight against Minnesota. LA had the edge in Corsi (shot attempts), but the Wild controlled play at 5-on-5 in terms of expected goals. A big reason the Wild were able to come out victorious was because of Cam Talbot's play. He posted a .950 save percentage over the weekend.


    There are certainly a few things the Wild need to work on over these first couple weeks of the season. The two most glaring issues through two games are the same problems from last season: the power play and winning face-offs.


    But this was the best possible start of the season for the Wild. The biggest takeaway of the weekend is that it took a team effort to win both games, which speaks volumes to how deep this team is and how the newcomers have fit in quite nicely so far.


    All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference.

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