Hello, from the bottom of the standings!
The Minnesota Wild are currently sitting as the 31st team in the NHL standings as the team prepares to take the ice for game No. 21 Tuesday evening. The team is coming off a well played game at home in St. Paul as Nino Niederreiter made his return to the State of Hockey. Unfortunately for the Wild, however, they lost 4-3 in overtime at the hand of an Andrei Svechnikov snipe.
On Saturday, Devan Dubnyk had another rough outing. The Wild netminder continued his regression from his 2017 self, allowing four goals on 28 Hurricane shots — a trend that hopefully turns itself around. But at 33-years-old, that’s no easy task.
Speaking of players in their thirties, Zach Parise’s play has started to turn the corner as he scored his second goal in just as many games. Not only was he productive, but he looked and played faster. His work along the walls screamed the game we all know and love from the good ol’ Minnesota boy.
The Wild are now set to square off against another Eastern Conference opponent. For the first time this season, the Wild will play a road game in the Empire State. Awaiting the Wild will be an eager-to-bounce-back club in the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres are coming off an ugly 4-1 loss in Chicago, allowing four straight at the hands of Kirby Each (x2), Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Wild fans know how that goes. Buffalo’s lone goal was scored by Jack Eichel. The 23-year-old leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 24 points. Second-year defenseman Rasmus Dahlin leads the team with 13 assists.
Rookie Victor Olofsson is a guy to keep an eye on. He has been playing left wing on the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The 24-year-old leads all rookies with seven goals and ranks second in points with 14, behind Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar who has 22 points thus far. Olofsson, selected in the seventh round (No. 181) of the 2014 NHL Draft, ranks first in average ice time (17:40) among rookie forwards and first in average ice time on the power play (3:23).
Sabres captain, Jack Eichel had this to say of Olofsson’s play of late: “He’s been great to play with, awesome kid, super skilled. He’s had so many chances over the last little bit; he could easily have 15 goals right now. Vic’s been great and he’s just going to keep getting better.”
The Sabres are pretty banged up right now. Former Gopher Kyle Okposo is day-to-day following an injury suffered on Saturday during the second period against the Ottawa Senators. Other recent injuries to the Sabres’ forward group include Vladimir Sobotka (out four to six weeks), Marcus Johansson (day-to-day) and Johan Larsson (day-to-day). Forward Tage Thompson was the third recall in the past week for the Sabres, following Curtis Lazar and Rasmus Asplund.
Buffalo swept the two-game season series last year, winning both of their meetings with Minnesota. The Sabres outscored the Wild 7-6 last season, inching out a 3-2 regulation win last November and a 5-4 shootout win last February. Rasmus Dahlin, a rookie at the time, led the way for the Sabres scoring two goals — one in each game — and adding an assist to help prevail over the Wild in both meetings. Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon had two goals apiece in the season series. These teams will meet once more after Tuesday night’s game — March 28 in St. Paul.
Projected lines (via dailyfaceoff.com)
1. Can the Wild contain Jack Eichel?
This will be tough. Eichel is playing as good as anybody over the last week. The former second overall pick has five goals in his last two contests, including a four-goal night against the Ottawa Senators.
He’s on a tear, and like many of the bottom dwellers in the standings, the Wild struggle to slow down superstars. This could be a recipe for disaster in Buffalo Tuesday night. The Sabres have last change, meaning if head coach Ralph Krueger doesn’t want the top line of Olofsson-Eichel-Reinhart to be matched against the defensively minded Mikko Koivu all night, they won’t have to be. It will be tough to stop the Sabres’ top scorer, but if the Wild would like success tonight, it’ll likely start with No. 9.
2. Can Zach Parise continue his hot play of late?
A week ago we were all ripping and negatively analyzing Zach Parise’s season play. The 35-year-old seemed to have lost a step or two. But after the last two games, there is hope. Following a two-point night against the Arizona Coyotes, Parise scored for a second straight game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Parked right in his favorite spot, Parise deked forehand to backhand to beat James Reimer in the most Zach Parise fashion you could draw up. The Wild forward has never been know for his flashy hands or uber skill. He’s always done it with an energizer-bunny work ethic and a talent for finding the back of the net by having great positioning in the offensive zone. Can his play of late continue tonight in Buffalo?
3. Will the Wild play with the lead?
The last time the Wild had a lead in the second period was on November 2 against the St. Louis Blues. That was 18 days and seven games ago. It’s hard to win games if you are always trying to catch back up on the scoreboard. Keeping this in mind, it’s quite remarkable the team is 3-2-2 this month when they have been trailing in every game so far this month. The “comeback
kids 30-year-olds” can’t have too much left in the tank, can they?