A timely revival in State of Hockey

Dec 11, 2019 3:05 AM

Here are some words that didn’t seem plausible a month ago — the Minnesota Wild might be good?

Remember when the Wild were locked in the NHL basement? The Wild were 4-9-0 after one month. It’s not like they were alarmingly bad, but the Wild were surely not good. Minnesota scored only 30 goals through 13 games and gave up 45. The offense was non-existent, the defense wasn’t helping Devan Dubnyk, and the ghost of Mike Modano wasn’t going to turn them back into the North Stars glory days.

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Alas, my favorite saying of ‘this is why they play 82 games’ even applies to the Wild. Since that 4-9-0 start, the Wild have gone 10-3-4 and have shown a pulse.

They’re still not scoring a lot (a minus-8 goal differential as of Monday). The saving grace, however, is this work has come with Dubnyk out of the lineup as he tends to his ill wife with no sign of an imminent return.

In Dubnyk’s absence (since Nov. 28), Alex Stalock has filled in admirably. The former 2005 fourth-round pick is 8-4-2 with a goals-against average of 2.91 and a .906 save percentage. Obviously, they’re not out-of-this-world numbers, but they’ve been good enough to keep Minnesota afloat. The backup netminder, 23-year-old Kaapo Kahkonen, won his first two starts in his NHL career.

Offensively, it’s been a balanced approach. The big three of Jason Zucker (21 points), Eric Staal (21 points) and Zach Parise (17 points) have done what they can. They would benefit greatly from more offensive output from Mats Zuccarello, their big free agent signing at $6 million AAV. Zuccarello has 17 points, but he seems to be turning it on with six points (three goals, three assists) in his past five games as of Monday.

It’s still not set in stone if this is what’s to come for the Wild, but going 7-1-2 in their past 10 games helps. What’s even more bizarre is the Wild have done this work on the road; they’ve played 20 games on the road compared to 10 at Xcel Energy Center. In their home barn, the Wild are 7-1-2 thus far entering their home matchup against Anaheim on Tuesday.

Home cooking will be valuable in the coming weeks. From Dec. 31 to Feb. 15, the Wild will play 15 of 18 at home. If they can stay afloat for now and win more of those games at home, they could be major players at the trade deadline on Feb. 24. Then, if Minnesota wants to get crazy and trade for, say, Taylor Hall, then that’ll be interesting.

The past has not been kind to the Wild, but they’ve been one of the few teams that hasn’t been talked about much lately. This is why they play 82 games. Let us all speak it into existence.

Thursday

Hurricanes at Canucks: We’ve had a bit of a bad stretch the past two weeks, but let’s get back on track. This could be a fun game of two young, good teams. This will be the second game of a five-game road trip for Carolina, who will look to continue its solid play. HURRICANES

Maple Leafs at Flames: Don’t look now, but Calgary is red-hot since Bill Peters “resigned.” The Flames have won five in a row since Geoff Ward took over as coach prior to Tuesday’s game against Arizona. Distraction eliminated, Calgary is playing hockey and doing it well. FLAMES

Saturday

Stars at Predators: Dallas will be on the second game of a back-to-back after playing Vegas on Friday. The Stars are 3-2 on the SEGABABA (second game of a back-to-back), but it’ll help facing a Nashville team that continues to struggle at finding its identity. STARS

Last week: 1-2

Season: 14-16

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