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Head Out On The Highway: Blackhawks at Wild

Blackhawks face the Wild for the last time this season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks travel to Minnesota looking for their first win of the season against the Wild. The Saturday matinee will be the fourth and final meeting between these two Central Division teams this season.

While the Wild are currently sitting in the third playoff position in the Central division, they’ll be looking to widen the gap between them and the Nashville Predators who have the same amount of points (74) in two more games. If the other games this season are anything to go by, it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine a win is possible: the Wild have outscored the Blackhawks 14 to 4 in three games, and have been the better team in score-adjusted shot numbers in two of the three outings.

However, if it’s based on their last 10 games, the issues in net might be enough to undo the Wild against the Blackhawks for the first time this season.

The Wild are just 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, with their netminders allowing 44 goals against for a .850 save percentage. The Wild are still producing at a strong 3.4 goals-per-game pace, but they’ve only been able to win when scoring at least four goals. Lucky for them, the Wild have been able to produce that against the Blackhawks in each of the last three games. And to be fair, Cam Talbot — who shutout the Blackhawks in the previous game — has still won his last four starts and had a .920 save percentage or better in two of those victories.

Despite being on shaky ground at the moment, the Wild are coming off a recent 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night. Sensation Kirill Kaprizov scored twice, Ryan Hartman had a goal and an assist, and Jordan Greenway scored the tie-breaking and game-winning goal in the third period. The Wild also limited the Bruins to just 26 shots on goal, a great feat considering the Bruins have generated almost 10 more shots per game on average this season.

The Wild players to watch out for are the usual suspects: in their last five games, Kaprizov has four goals and five points while Hartman, Kevin Fiala, and Mats Zuccarello all have two goals and five points. In the same span, Matt Boldy continues to have an exceptional rookie season with three goals, bringing his total to 12 in just 28 games; and Jared Spurgeon picked up another four assists as the biggest points-per-game (0.61) contributor from the defensemen.

Outside of goaltending, the Wild are weak on their special teams, especially on the penalty kill which is the eighth-worst in the league at just 75.8 percent. Considering how important the PK can be in the playoffs, that might be the one stat that holds the Wild back from being a top contender despite being a strong 5-on-5 team.

The Blackhawks are also 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, but that’s where the similarities end for the most part, especially considering that the Blackhawks are coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins Tuesday. The only reason Chicago even got a point out of the affair was thanks to the heroics of Marc-André Fleury in net, allowing just one goal against on 48 shots. It was a good bounce-back game for the smiliest goalie — he’s had a .906 save percentage or worse in his previous six games — but it was disappointing to see the offense try up when Fleury put on such a great performance.

As for the last time these Blackhawks and Wild faced off, the Blackhawks offense was also nowhere to be found as the Wild shut them out 5-0. This was one of the first games in which Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane had been reunited on the regular but they hadn’t yet remastered their chemistry. The trio has obviously been excellent as of late: in their last five games, Kane has 12 points (2 G, 10 A) while DeBrincat (3 G, 5 A) and Strome (5 G, 3 A) have eight points each. It’s likely the Blackhawks will have to hope the top line can fair better this time around against the Wild if they have a chance of winning — especially considering the very recent loss via trade of the Blackhawks’ fourth-most productive player this season in Brandon Hagel.

Newly acquired Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk along with recently signed defensive prospect Alex Vlasic will make their NHL debut. The lines are not know yet, but Derek King is planning to roll with an 11 forward and 7 defensemen line-up.

King did share some of Lightning coach’s John Cooper’s thoughts on the new forwards:

Blackhawks — Statistic — Wild

46.74% (28th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 51.36% (11th)

45.40% (29th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.49% (9th)

2.61 (28th) — Goals per game — 3.68 (3rd)

3.41 (24th) — Goals against per game — 3.24 (22nd)

48.5% (21st) — Faceoffs — 53.5% (4th)

20.1% (17th-T) — Power play — 20.1% (17th-T)

76.1% (23rd) — Penalty kill — 75.8% (25th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Kubalik — Toews — Dach

Raddysh — Lafferty

Katchouk — Carpenter (?) — Entwistle Lafferty

Vlasic — S. Jones

de Haan—Stillman

McCabe — C. Jones

Gustafsson

Lankinen

Fleury

Wild

Kaprizov — Hartman — Zuccarello

Boldy — Gaudreau — Fiala

Greenway — Eriksson Ek — Foligno

Duhaime — Jost — Bjugstad

Goligoski — Spurgeon

Brodin — Dumba

Merrill — Kulikov

Talbot

Kahkonen

How to watch

When: 1:00 p.m. CT

Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHLN

Webstream: NHL NET, ESPN+