It has been ten days since the Wild played their last game, but it is finally time for them to return to action. The Wild will be in St. Paul Saturday night to take on the first place team in the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins, for the second time this season.
The Wild entered the break on a positive note. They won their final game before the break, defeating the Red Wings 4-2. They also won three of their final four games before the break, with their only loss being a 5-4 defeat to the Florida Panthers with the final goal coming in the closing seconds. As the Wild return to play, they are currently six points outside of the playoffs, trailing the Arizona Coyotes, who currently occupy the second wildcard spot. Minnesota has played fewer games than most of the teams ahead of them in the wildcard race, so there is an opportunity for them to make up some ground.
Their push to get into a playoff spot begins against Boston. This is the second time these two teams have met this season. The first meeting was a game to forget for Minnesota. Holding a 4-2 lead with two minutes remaining, the Wild allowed two goals 48 seconds apart to allow the Bruins to tie the game at 4-4. Torey Krug would add the game-winner in overtime. The Wild went on to lose their next game in a similar fashion against the New York Rangers. Having had ten days off, the Wild should be well rested and able to play a full 60 minutes this time against Boston.
This game will mark Charlie Coyle’s second game back in St. Paul since being traded by the Wild. In two games against Wild, one in St. Paul last season and the one in Boston earlier this year, Coyle has yet to record a point. So far on the season, Coyle has nine goals and 18 assists in 51 games for the Bruins. That puts him seventh on the Bruins in scoring.
Boston is led by David Pastrnak, who is currently third in the entire league in scoring with 72 points. Brad Marchand is not far behind him with 66 points for himself. The Bruins have also gotten solid goaltending from both primary goalie Tuukka Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak. One advantage for the Wild — the Bruins will be playing Minnesota in the second half of a back-to-back. They defeated the Jets in Winnipeg 2-1 Friday night, with Rask getting the start. This suggests that Halak will probably be the starter in St. Paul Saturday.
1. Will the Wild look rusty or well-rested?
The Wild will enter this game after ten days off, but will this length of a break prove to be too long or just the right length? Older veterans Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter probably enjoyed the extended break, but that does not mean that the team as a whole might not look rusty in the first game back. If the Wild do appear well-rested, hopefully they can take advantage of a Boston team playing in back-to-back games.
2. Will special teams be special or a liability?
In their final four games before the break, the Wild went 6-for-12 on the power play. That very good percentage is inflated by the 7-0 victory over the Stars that saw the Wild go 3-for-3 with the man advantage. The penalty kill was an unimpressive four-for-seven in those games. If the Wild can keep their power play going, that will go a long way to them beating Boston, but they will also need to be successful on the penalty kill — something that has been a struggle all season long.
3. Can the Wild continue to spread around goal scoring?
In the final three games before the All-Star break, the Wild got goals from ten different skaters. If the Wild are going to climb back into a playoff spot, they are going to need to win a lot of their remaining games and score a lot of goals. That will require them to not rely on only a few players to bring goal scoring production. They will need new players to step up every night to help them win games. That is what they were getting in the games leading up to the break, and they will need it to continue against Boston and the games to follow.
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