The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild faceoff for the first time since February 2020 as both hope to extend their point streaks. Their Friday matchup at the United Center is the first of a back-to-back as they travel to St. Paul for another game Saturday night.
The Wild are finally both good and exciting in a way their fans have longed for years. They’re currently sitting second in the Central Division and Western Conference 0.671 points percentage. Much of their success is due to their offensive power, as they score nearly four goals a game on average, good for third best in the league. Combined with a solid defensive foundation, the Wild are a team that can both outscore and shut a team down in an efficiently, consistent and well-rounded way that's new to this year’s team.
Acting as the catalyst for their offense is a top forward line centered by a familiar face to Blackhawks fans: 2013 first-round pick Ryan Hartman. After a few seasons with other organizations, Hartman finally found his groove the last couple of seasons with the Wild and broke out offensively this season to become one of their leading scorers with 16 goals so far. The only players on the team with high point totals are his linemates: the highly skilled Kirill Kaprizov — a video-game-on-skates type of player that leads the Wild in points with 44 points (16 G, 28 A) — and veteran Mats Zuccarello — a fan favorite with 32 points (11 G, 21 A).
Kevin Kiala (25 points), Marcus Foligno (23 points), and Joel Eriksson Ek (20 points) round out an impressive top-six group. Ek has missed the last month with an upper body injury and COVID-19 Protocol but he’s expected to play this weekend against the Blackhawks. Rookie Matt Boldy also has four points (2 G, 1 A) in four games since his call-up.
On the backend, Alex Goligoski and Matt Dumba lead the blueliners with 21 and 18 points, respectively. The Wild will still be without Jonas Brodin (upper-body injury) and Jared Spurgeon (lower-body injury) Friday night.
#mnwild center Joel Eriksson Ek returns Friday— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) January 19, 2022
Spurgeon will return likely Saturday (won’t play back to back but definitely will return in one of the two)
They’ll see on Talbot if he can start one of the two games vs. #blackhawks
In recent play, the Wild are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the other team above them in the standings by points percentage — the high-powered Colorado Avalanche — but that was their first defeat in their last four games. However, before that, they’d had a short five-game skid that seemed to be primarily due to a drop in goaltending performance: Cam Talbot had just a .855 save percentage in the games he played in that span. With Talbot’s injury, Kaapo Kahkonen has stepped into net and put up a strong .933 save-percentage in four games, helping the Wild to their current four-game point streak.
Talbot may be back from injury to play sometime this weekend, but it’s unknown which night, if either. Andrew Hammond has been Kahkonen’s backup in recent games.
The Blackhawks are coming off a shootout loss of their own, falling 3-2 to the Seattle Kraken on Monday night, but they did extend their point streak to five games — the longest of the season. The Seattle game was a mess with only an outstanding performance by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury being the reason for the point in the standings, but the Blackhawks had been playing much better as of late in the four games prior. The Blackhawks will need to find a way to recapture that performance level again because the Wild are a team that gave them issues over the last several years before they reached the success of this season.
The good news is that the Blackhawks are gaining some reinforcements: Seth Jones, Dylan Strome, and Kirby Dach are all expected to play Friday night against the Wild after missing several games while in COVID-19 Protocol. Jones in particular is a boost — the other defensemen did an admirable job holding down the fort from the blueline, but Jones’ play-driving, three-zone play, and general ability to play a ton of minutes was definitely missed.
Strome should help fill in down the middle — which has been lacking of late — and slid into the first-line center role between Patrick Kane and Brandon Hagel at Friday morning’s practice. Dach was taking line rushes with Philipp Kurashev and MacKenzie Entwistle on the third line. Mike Hardman was also recalled from the Rockford IceHogs and skating on the fourth line at Friday’s practice. Brett Connolly was cleared from COVID-19 Protocol as well but will not play. Jujhar Khaira was also missing from practice due to an unknown injury or medical reason.
Strome in the lineup and will be the 1C next to Kane, King said. Dach will step back in as 3C between Kurashev and Entwistle.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 21, 2022
Connolly and Borgstrom will be scratched. Sounds like Khaira is having some kind of injury/medical issue but King didn’t have the details.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Wild
46.50% (27th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 50.30% (16th)
46.50% (28th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 49.93% (14th)
2.36 (29th) — Goals per game — 3.66 (3rd)
3.21 (22nd) — Goals against per game — 3.03 (19th)
49.2% (20th) — Faceoffs — 48.3% (23rd)
18.8% (29th) — Power play — 17.0% (24th)
76.3% (25th) — Penalty kill — 79.8% (15th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Hagel — Strome — Kane
DeBrincat — Toews — Kubalik
Kurashev — Lafferty — Entwistle
Hardman — Lafferty— Carpenter
de Haan — S. Jones
Stillman — Murphy
C. Jones — Gustafsson
Kaprizov — Hartman — Zuccarello
Boldy — Eriksson Ek — Fiala
Greenway — Gaudreau — Foligno
Dewar — Strum — Duhaime
Benn — Dumba
Kulikov — Goligoski
Merril — Addison
How to watch
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network