Following the 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks to start the western road trip, Minnesota Wild veteran Eric Staal had this to say: “It was a great effort to come away with it and now we want to carry that confidence and momentum to the next one.” Well, two days later, it is time for that next game.
Tonight marks the second game of a four-game road swing out west. This stop, the Wild take on the San Jose Sharks.
Unlike in years past, the Sharks are a team that is actually struggling. They find themselves toward the bottom of the NHL standings with only 11 points through their first 16 games. The Sharks have the same amount of points as the Wild entering Thursday night’s battle at the SAP Center, which isn’t great, folks!
On Tuesday, the Sharks snapped a five-game losing streak by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2. With the win, San Jose has now only won two games in their previous nine outings. And you thought the Wild had it bad? Sharks fans believed their team was a Stanley Cup contender entering the season. They have a tough hill to climb if they want to inch their way back into a playoff position.
As of late, San Jose forward Tomas Hertl has been playing well with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in the past 11 games. His 14 points are tied for the most on the team with former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns.
Right behind them is forward Evander Kane with a team-leading nine goals and 13 points. An interesting tidbit came out on Tuesday involving Kane and a filed lawsuit for $500,000 dollars by a Las Vegas casino. It shouldn’t affect his play tonight, but interesting no doubt. Will it weigh over his head tonight?
San Jose swept the season series last year, winning all three of their meetings with Minnesota. The Sharks outscored the Wild 11-3 last season, shutting out the Wild both times the teams met at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Luckily for the Wild, they meet them on the road first, where they only fell to the Sharks 4-3 a mere 366 days ago. Logan Couture led the way for the Sharks scoring three goals in three games last year. Mikko Koivu was the only Wild skater to register more than one point in the three meetings last season. These teams will meet two more times after tonight’s game — February 15 in St. Paul and again in San Jose on March 5.
1. Will Zach Parise produce offensively?
Coming off a bounce-back season in 2018-19, one in which the Minnesotan scored 28 goals and finished the year with 61 points in 74 games played, Parise was expected to be a big producer in this offensively-challenged Minnesota Wild offense. However, one of the bigger surprises out of the gate is to see Parise take not just one step back, but a couple steps back this season. So far, Parise has four goals, one assist, and is a team-worst minus-12 at even-strength through the first 15 games of the season. His plus/minus is tied for second worst in the NHL, only trailing Detroit Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou who has a rating of minus-18.
On top of that, of Parise’s four goals, two have been empty-net goals. It does not take a rocket scientist to recognize that his lack of production and the overall record of the Wild go hand-in-hand. Since signing in 2012, the Wild’s offense has gone as Parise has gone. Now, in his eighth season in green it has become a problem to rely so heavily on him.
2. Can the Wild start periods strong?
This was a burning question last game as well. Against Anaheim on Tuesday, Minnesota surrendered two early goals in the second period just 25 seconds apart. That’s the bad. The good, however, was that in the first five minutes of the third period the Wild scored a pair of goals of their own to take the lead. So, the question seems to remain unanswered as the Wild’s bad and good starts to the second and third periods on Tuesday cancelled each other out.
3. Can the Wild shutdown the grizzly bear that is Brent Burns?
I’m just kidding about the grizzly bear part. Wait, no, maybe I’m not. I won’t go down memory lane and pain Wild fans about how the team let the superstar go via trade back in 2011. However, I will talk about how the Wild were mildly successful in shutting down the 2003 Wild draftee last season. In the three games the Sharks and Wild met, Burns was limited to just two assists. Both assists came in their first meeting, meaning he has been kept off the scoresheet in the previous two matchups against the only other NHL team he has played for.
Can the Wild shut him down for a third time in a row? It will be a daunting task. The Wild will have their hands full trying to contain this grizzly.
It will be another late one tonight, so get out your coffee, tea, or favorite caffeinated beverage and enjoy the game!
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