The good news, the Minnesota Wild broke their losing streak with last night’s win against the Philadelphia Flyers. The bad news, they didn’t look all that great doing it.
Tonight, they take on a Buffalo Sabres amongst the worst in the league. A game they should win. A game they should dominate.
But we’ve heard that before recently.
The Sabres might be down in the standings, but they just took down a Toronto Maple Leafs squad that took down the Wild just four games back, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the process. Buffalo is also missing a bunch of guys with serious injuries that are costing them most (if not all) of the rest of the season, including Drake Caggiula, Malcolm Subban, Colin Miller, Vinnie Hinostroza and Henri Jokiharju. Of their injured guys, Hinostroza and Miller are the closest to returning, while Zemgus Girgensons practiced in a non-contact jersey recently, though none are projected to see the ice against the Wild.
Instead, the Sabres will be lead by centerman Tage Thompson, who paces the Sabres in goals and has three over his last three games. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has been hot recently as well with 12 points over his last 14 games, with two goals and 10 assists.
In net, Craig Anderson is confirmed to get the start. Anderson is 7-7 in his 14 starts with a save percentage of .909, in a season where inconsistency, illness and injury has seen the Sabres start six different netminders - with none of them reaching 20 starts yet.
For the Wild, they’ll still be missing Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway, both of whom made the trip with the team but neither expected to play during the two-game road trip. So the Wild are likely to go with the same lines as they had Thursday night against the Flyers...
Kirill Kaprizov - Ryan Hartman - Mats Zuccarello
Kevin Fiala - Frederick Gaudreau - Matthew Boldy
Brandon Dumhaime - Joel Eriksson Ek - Marcus Foligno
Connor Dewar - Nico Sturm - Nick Bjugstad
Alex Goligoski - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Dmitry Kulikov
Jon Merrill - Calen Addison
No word yet, but it’s likely that Kaapo Kahkonen will get the cage in relief of Cam Talbot, who did earn the win aginst Philly but had another rough night, allowing four goals on a .867 save percentage - his fifth start in a row with a sub-.900 number.
Fiala and Kaprizov have been the recent leaders in points, but they can’t do it alone. The Wild centermen, specifically Eriksson Ek and Hartman, need to get back to their early season strength, especially in the face-off dot. Wild pivots have averaged 39% in face-off wins over their last six games, and while face-offs hasn’t been a huge strength of the team this season (Wild centers have won 46.7% this season so far), the number of FO losses in important moments seem to be worse now than it ever has.
Luckily, the Sabres aren’t any better at 46.2%.
On paper, the Wild shouldn’t have any problem winning tonight against the Sabres. But we all know what paper has been worth lately.
Puck drops at 6 p.m.
How many times are we going to question the Wild’s special teams?
Wondering when the Wild are going to get things going on the power play seems to be a yearly occurance. But Minnesota’s penalty kill is hardly ever an issue, and recently, it’s been putrid at 63.8% over their last 11 games.
Buffalo’s power play ranks 19th at just shy of 20%, and their penalty kill is the 24th-ranked squad in the NHL at 24th. If there’s a team where both units can get right, it would be this one.
Can the Wild beat a beatable team convincingly?
Winning like they did against the Flyers isn’t good enough - the Wild have to win this game going away in order to start getting their confidence back. Sure, having Dumba and Greenway back eventually to throw their weight around will help, but every team is injured this time of year. The schedule is giving them a couple nights to get right, and the Wild have to take full advantage to keep their place in the standings.