Perhaps the only team that’s endured a more violent roller-coaster ride this season than the Blackhawks is the Wild. It started poorly in Minnesota, with the Wild losing six of their first seven games. By mid-December, though, they’d surged to a 16-12-5 record and were starting to entertain talk of a playoff berth. Since then? A 7-10-1 stretch that has Minnesota seven points back in the wild card chase — although they do own games in hand against three of the four teams they’d need to pass to secure the second wild card spot.
With 52 points in 51 games, though, the Wild will need to pick up points in a hurry to make that dream a reality. Minnesota came up for air briefly in late January by winning three of four — only to enter a nine-day break and then were shellacked 6-1 by the Bruins on Saturday.
The Minnesota’s main issues concern the defensive half of the ice. They have a decent offense (15th with 3.06 goals/game) and a decent power play (13th at 20 percent). Eric Staal leads the team with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) while Zach Parise is the top goal scorer at 19. Mats Zuccarello (14 goals, 15 assists) and Jason Zucker (14 goals, 14 assists) provide a decent secondary spark and the team’s possession numbers look good at a 52.4 expected-goals-for percentage that’s eighth in the league. But neither Devan Dubnyk (.890 save percentage, 3.40 goals-against average) nor Alex Stalock (.903 SA%, 2.93 GAA) have got it done in net and the Wild’s 30th-ranked PK is dreadful at 73.5-percent. For a visual representation of the way things are going defensively in Minnesota this season, here’s head coach Bruce Boudreau.
We are all Bruce Boudreau. pic.twitter.com/is3unHPmG8— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 2, 2020
With an aging core and a limited number of top prospects available in the system, another sustained slump could make Minnesota one of the most aggressive sellers at the upcoming trade deadline.
Things are much rosier in Chicago, as the Blackhawks continue trending up. A 3-2 shootout victory against the Coyotes on Saturday in Arizona means there are no changes expected to the lineup ahead of this game, meaning the Nick Seeler revenge game narrative is already dead in the water.
But far more important stakes still exist. The Wild have a mediocre-at-best offense and a problematic defense, which makes this another tantalizing opportunity for the Blackhawks to pick up two more points and continue their ascent up the league standings. Doing so at the hands of a division rival on the verge of a complete teardown only sweetens the potential pot to be won this evening.
Let’s Go Hawks!
Blackhawks — Statistic — Wild
48.2% (24th) — Corsi For — 49.4% (19th)
46.6% (28th) — Expected goals for — 52.4% (8th)
2.98 (18th) — Goals per game — 3.06 (15th)
3.06 (17th) — Goals against per game — 3.33 (29th)
15.3% (27th) — Power play — 20.0% (13th)
83.1% (6th) — Penalty kill — 73.5% (30th)
Kubalik — Toews — Caggiula
Saad — Dach — Kane
DeBrincat — Kampf — Strome
Nylander — Carpenter — Smith
Keith — Boqvist
Gustafsson — Murphy
Maatta — Koekkoek
Parise — Staal — Zuccarello
Zucker — Kunin — Fiala
Greenway — Eriksson Ek — Foligno
Donato — Koivu — Hartman
Suter — Spurgeon
Brodin — Dumba
Soucy — Pateryn
How to watch
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
TV: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV