The Minnesota Wild have had an inauspicious start to the second half of the season after the All-Star break and bye week. After getting absolutely throttled by the Boston Bruins last Saturday night, GM Bill Guerin decided to try to get defenseman and frequent healthy scratch Nick Seeler some ice time down in Iowa, only to see their 2011 fifth-round draft pick sniped on waivers by the Chicago Blackhawks.
If Seeler is looking for some retribution, he might not have to wait too long, as the Blackhawks come to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time this season on Tuesday night.
According to The Athletic’s Michael Russo, the Blackhawks haven’t decided whether or not Seeler will be active for the game, despite Chicago’s lack of defensive depth with Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan out for the season. In fact, Blackhawks beat writer Mark Lazerus thinks Chicago is opting against it:
But if he does see the ice, the Wild are expecting Seeler to come out with a lot of fire from months of time spent in the press box.
Speaking of fire, the Wild could use some, considering how ice-cold they looked coming out of their bye week during their 6-1 rout at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Sloppy and prone to penalties, Minnesota was done in on both sides of their special teams, allowing goals on three of four Boston power plays, while scoring zero goals on their four chances with the man advantage. While the Wild’s power play has been better since the start of the season, currently sitting at 20% (13th in the NHL), they will have the work cut out for them against the Blackhawks’ seventh-ranked penalty kill. As for Minnesota’s penalty killers, the less said, the better, as the Wild’s current ranking of 30th in the league is about as bad as it’s ever been for what has historically been a strength of the team.
Chicago has been red-hot as of late — winners of six of their last seven dating back to January 11. The usual suspects have been strong for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane is on a 10-game points streak. Brandon Saad has four goals over his last four games. Jonathan Toews had a shootout goal last Saturday night against Arizona, and is only a few games removed from a two-goal, two-assist effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But even the newer guys are getting in on the action, like rookie Kirby Dach, who has four points in his last three games.
“Hot” is not an adjective that currently applies to anyone on the Wild, especially after their rough outing against the Bruins. But a couple players have at least seen the scoresheet despite the team’s difficulties. Eric Staal is in the midst of a five-game point streak, and Mats Zuccarello has four points in his last four games, including the Wild’s only goal against Boston. Zach Parise was held scoreless against the Bruins, but has a chance to pick up where he left off, as he had scored six points (five goals, one assist) over the six games prior.
The last time these two teams met on December 15, the Wild came back from two-goal and one-goal deficits before Chicago pulled away in the third for a 5-3 victory at United Center. Kevin Fiala scored twice and Ryan Suter added three assists, but Patrick Kane’s hat trick stole the show for the Blackhawks.
Can the Wild turn their bye-week blues around with a strong showing at home? Or will the Blackhawks continue their hot streak against Minnesota’s ice-cold squad? And will Seeler get a chance to make good against his former teammates? Puck drops at 7 p.m. CT.
1) Can the Wild shake off their poor performance?
Minnesota’s game with Boston is in the rear-view mirror, and the Wild need to keep it that way. If they have any chance to get back in the wild card race (currently seven points back of eighth place Arizona), they have to get over losses quickly and prevent them from becoming streaks. Nothing helps the focus like welcoming a rival to town, and the Blackhawks certainly qualify. It’s cliche for sure, but coming out strong and getting an early lead will be huge in putting last Saturday’s debacle behind them.
2) Can the Wild’s goaltender steal the team a win?
Whether Dubnyk gets a shot to rebound from his lackluster performance against the B’s, or Alex Stalock gets the call to protect the pipes, the Wild need better performances from their netminders. In their last four losses, the Wild have allowed six, five, seven and four goals. In their last three wins, they’ve given up two, zero and two. If Dubnyk or Stalock can keep the game close, the Wild have shown they have the scoring to get the W. They’ve shown they can shut down teams like the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Can they do the same against the Blackhawks?
3) Does Dumba finally get it done?
Matt Dumba got so close to breaking his goal drought, now at 33 games, with two rang pipes against the Bruins. He’s putting everything on net — you’ve got to think one of them has got to go in at some point. The Blackhawks have two solid netminders in Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford, but neither one has been world beating this year, as while both goaltenders boast save percentages greater than .910, their goals against averages are both near 3.0, and collectively they rank 14th in the league in goals allowed. But numbers aside, I just have a feeling Dumba will finally find the net against the Blackhawks.
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