You can’t blame either the Wild or the Stars for finding it hard to say goodbye to November, as both Minnesota teams (past and present) had strong second months of the season. Minnesota is currently riding an eight-game point streak and went 7-2-4 last month, while Dallas was the hottest team in the NHL in November, starting the month with a 10-0-1 run before dropping their last two contests to Chicago and St. Louis, respectively.
Two points would mean a lot for either team after Saturday’s matinee at the X. The Wild can keep chase with the likes of Nashville, Calgary and Vancouver with a win, who are all trying to catch the Vegas Golden Knights for the second wild card spot. Dallas, on the other hand, could stay on pace with the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the third-place spot in the suddenly tight Central Division.
For the Wild to win, they’re going to have to put behind them their last meeting with the Stars — a miserable 6-3 loss in which the Wild allowed six unanswered goals after leading 3-0 late in the middle stanza.
Of course, Sunday’s game is also a big one for Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who will be taking the ice for his 1,000th NHL game. The 15-year NHLer leads the Wild in just about every offensive statistic, including games played, assists, points, plus/minus, power-play points, shots and faceoff wins, and is second all-time in goals (to Marian Gaborik by 16) and power-play goals (to Zach Parise, who leads Koivu by one). Considering this is likely to be his last year in a Wild uniform, this is a tremendous milestone for Koivu, and one worth celebrating.
The Wild should also be happy to have Marcus Foligno’s back from injury, as he has been practicing since Thanksgiving and appears ready to go, though that also means that someone on the fourth line will be spending the game in the press box. Doubtful that it’s Ryan Donato, who has been playing strong as of late. More likely that Victor Rask or Ryan Hartman will sit if Boudreau decides to put Foligno back in the lineup.
Greg Pateryn also saw the ice at Tria Orthopedic Center for Saturday’s practice, but is likely still a ways away after an injury setback. And though head coach Bruce Boudreau intimated that Kaapo Kahkonen would get his second start at some point during the two-game homestand prior to Friday’s game against the Senators, the Star Tribune’s Sarah McLellan reported after Saturday’s practice that Boudreau might be changing his mind:
1. Can the Wild keep up their recent scoring pace?
Minnesota has scored at least three goals in seven of their last eight games, with players like Zach Parise, Kevin Fiala and Jared Spurgeon finding the scoresheet often. Dallas is currently fourth in the league in goals against and fifth in the league on the penalty kill, making scoring on the Stars a tough task. However, the Stars did give up three goals apiece in their two recent losses to Chicago and St. Louis, so it is possible. No matter who’s in net, the Wild are going to need to give their tender some goal support. Will they be able to get it done?
2) Can Stalock stay strong? Or can Kaapo put a cap on the Stars’ offense?
The Stars rank 21st in scoring and 25th on the power play, so if the Wild are going to find a way to win, it will have to be by limiting chances and keeping the puck out of the net. No matter who gets the call to man the crease on Sunday, be it Alex Stalock or Kahkonen, either will need a strong game in order to give the Wild the best chance to win.
3) How will Koivu perform in his 1000th game?
The Kaptain had a nice little point streak in the middle of November, earning an assist in four straight games before the streak was snapped in the OT game versus the Bruins. Having been held off the scoresheet for the last four, what better opportunity for Koivu to get on another run?