The Minnesota Wild will play the Oilers in Edmonton tonight for the first time this season. Here are your game day notes.
1. This will be the second of three meetings between the Oilers and Wild this season. They played an afternoon game in Minnesota back on Dec. 16 and the Oilers came out with a 3-2 win. Cam Talbot stopped 29 of 31 shots and Jesse Puljujarvi scored the game winner in the third period. After today’s game, they’ll play one more time on April 2.
2. The Wild are currently in third place in the Central Division. They look to be a lock for the playoffs, but a strong finish could possibly vault them over Winnipeg for home-ice in the first round and a poor finish could have them get hopped by Dallas who’s currently sitting in a wildcard seed.
3. Much like last season, Minnesota is an example of a team that does well in spite of poor shot attempt numbers. Generally we suggest that a team getting outshot consistently and winning is overachieving. The Wild are 30th in the league in even strength shot attempt differential but they rank third in the league in expected goals for percentage, via Corsica. That means the Wild might not be peppering a high volume of shots on goal, but they get quality chances and stop their opponents from doing the same.
4. That’s noticeable in Minnesota’s style of play. They have a rock solid blueline that smothers the other team in the defensive zone, a deep group of fast forwards who play 200-foot games, and they all buy into a responsible, defensive style in which they wait for opportunities to attack. It’s an interesting blend of the old, boring Wild teams from the past infused with that high tempo, hard skating Bruce Boudreau style we saw in Anaheim and Washington.
5. Another thing the Wild do well is score on the power play. They rank sixth in the league with a 21.83 per cent power play efficiency. They’re league average on the penalty kill, but being able to score with the man advantage has been key to the team’s success this year. Their biggest power play weapon? Eric Staal who has 11 goals on the man advantage.
6. Speaking of Staal, he’s having a bounce-back season that nobody really saw coming. Back in 2016, he was dealt to the New York Rangers from the Carolina Hurricanes as a deadline rental. Him and the Canes couldn’t work out a contract extension as Staal was seeking something like $8 million annually. He was eventually signed by the Wild on a ridiculous bargain contract worth $3.5 million annually. Now, he’s playing at a point-per-game pace and could get himself some Hart Trophy votes.
7. Staal’s resurgence in Minnesota is sort of similar to the breakout enjoyed by Devan Dubnyk. As we all know, Dubnyk played on some awful Oilers teams. He was traded to Nashville for Matt Hendricks and then bounced around a little before figuring it out with the Wild. They completely hit the reset button with Dubnyk in Minnesota and he finally lived up to his draft hype.
8. Dubnyk has a .918 save percentage in 49 games for the Wild this season. Of course, it helps playing behind a very good blueline like the Wild have, but Dubnyk’s later-career breakout is always an interesting story. I wonder if it came more from the change of scenery or if it comes down to the Oilers’ inability to develop prospects. I would imagine a big part of it has to do with the latter.
9. Oscar Klefbom will miss the next couple games to undergo a “minor procedure.” That’s sort of ominous, given the quote Elliotte Friedman had about Klefbom playing this season through an injury. I really don’t know why the team wouldn’t shut him down at this point if he is truly dealing with a nagging issue.
10. And, finally, The McArtRoss Race. Connor McDavid has 81 points in 67 games and is six points behind Nikita Kucherov for the league’s scoring lead. McDavid’s 1.21 points-per-game is just slightly lower than the 1.22 points-per-game had last year. It’s remarkable he’s managed that pace given how useless the team’s power play has been.
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