After postponing the game for things that are more important than hockey, the Minnesota Wild resumed play to face the Arizona Coyotes this afternoon.
Kevin Fiala was back in the lineup, as was Marcus “The Moose” Foligno, who drew in for the first time since leaving the game against the Coyotes back on March 12th. And after a month-long hiatus, the Moose wanted to make his presence known.
Foligno easily could have been credited with hits in the double-digits, finishing the game with four in total. It was the complete Foligno experience, the good and the bad. He finished his checks, took two penalties (including a phantom high-stick), and was vital in the Wild offense’s strong cycling game.
Reunited with Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway, the trio showed no rust in being the Wild’s best line, with a whopping 77 xGF% while on the ice together, according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s been a running theme all year, as Evolving-Hockey.com has the line ranked second in the league amongst forward groups at a 72 xGF% rate. That’s ahead of such marquee lines as Landeskog/Rantanen/MacKinnon, Matthew/Marner/Hyman and, most notably, McDavid/Puljujarvi/Nugent-Hopkins. When the “second” line can control the game’s flow ahead of some of the best lines in the league, the Wild has a chance every night. It’s good to know that they haven’t lost a step in Foligno’s absence.
Foligno may not have made a mark on the scoresheet in his return, but the same could not be said of Fiala. His presence on the suddenly red-hot powerplay was welcome with an assist on one of the three powerplay goals. At even-strength, his line with Marcus Johansson and Ryan Hartman was one of the few blemishes for the Wild, responsible for a few neutral zone turnovers and some lackluster efforts in their end.
The game’s story was the powerplay, though, and while Fiala helped out in that regard, the whole team was clicking as a unit.
We noted this during the game, but the recent string of success from the powerplay feels like a bit of a correction to the norm. As much as the struggles on the man-advantage have been well-chronicled by those who cover the team — us included — it was exceedingly difficult to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with it. And while some might point to a little more movement from the skaters at the top of the zone as the reason for the success, it is more likely that this is just a situation of the pucks finally going in the net or a positive regression. Whatever the reason, having the hottest powerplay in the league going back to the start of April feels good.
Heading into the third period the Wild held a 3-1 lead. With a strong start to the final frame, the Wild could put this game away quickly. At the 5:50 mark of the third period, as captain Jared Spurgeon scored the second Wild goal in less than a minute and half to make it 5-1, it was clear the Wild had the game in the bag.
While Phil Kessel was able to pull the Coyotes with three goals midway through the third, the lead never felt in doubt. Game. Set. Match.
With that win MoneyPuck.com now has the Minnesota Wild at a 99.5% chance of making the playoffs.
Can the Moose get loose?
Not on the scoreboard, but Marcus Foligno certainly made it known he was back. His line with Greenway and Eriksson Ek was dominant. He led the team in hits with five and was vital on the penalty kill with 1:17 shorthanded ice-time. He did have two penalties, but when you play as physically as the Moose does, it’s bound to happen. One of those penalties probably shouldn’t have been called anyways.
Foligno leads the way for the Wild on the ice, and he needed to step in with ease after such a long time away.
Can Sturm lock down his spot in the lineup?
If we wanted Nico Sturm to set the world on fire, he didn’t.
If we wanted a solid showing to solidify his spot in the lineup (that’s literally what’s being asked here), it’s hard not to think he did. He had a secondary assist on the Zach Parise goal that brought the score to 2-1. He was 50% in the faceoff circle, which is akin to being a faceoff god on this team. His line with Parise and Bonino may have been the second-best line of the game. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it’s enough for Dean Evason.
We aren’t the only ones to call for Sturm to receive more playing time. While the injury to Nick Bjugstad afforded Evason a reason to put Sturm into the lineup, his play probably isn’t strong enough to keep him there. At the moment, Bjugstad looks close to returning, but he’s not there yet. This team isn’t flush at the center position, but unless Sturm pushes the matter further next game, it’s likely Bjugstad replaces him.
Can the Wild get back to what worked against the Coyotes before?
They did with a bit of an asterisk. While the game looked like a blowout on paper, it was largely on the backs of a now-juggernaut-like powerplay. At 5v5, the Wild held the edge in quality while giving it up to the Coyotes on quantity. The Wild had a 66% xGF at evens, while the Coyotes held the advantage with a 54% CF over the Wild, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Most of those opportunities came while Fiala/Hartman/Johansson was on the ice. Of all the Wild forward groups, that line was the only below water with a 31% xGF. It’s a line that probably shouldn’t be held together much longer.
The Wild held the Coyotes to only three high-danger chances at evens, so the workload was manageable for Cam Talbot. Still, you aren’t going to win many games relying on a typically unreliable powerplay. The win was nice, but there is room for improvement.
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