Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN
When: Friday, April 22, 2022; 5:00pm PDT
Wait, who are we playing? Landlubber’s Guide to the Minnesota Wild
Local TV: ROOT Sports NW
National TV: NHL Network
Local Radio: 950 AM KJR
SiriusXM: Channel 219
Last Time Out
After opening the season series against the Wild with a win, Seattle last hosted Minnesota in mid-November hoping to duplicate that success. They ran into a problem in the form of youngster Rem Pitlick, who scored his first NHL goal — then his second, then his third — on Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Seattle never could regain their footing despite out-shooting, out-hitting, and out-drawing the Wild on the night. Alex Wennberg and Kraken Legend Marcus Johansson had the goals for Seattle; final score 4-2 Minnesota.
Stats, Streaks, & Droughts
No doubt about it, the Wild are on a tear and likely to give opponents fits as the playoffs get underway. Since March 16th the Wild are 15-1-3, going 7-1-2 in their last 10. One thing that jumps out at you with Minnesota’s recent results: 8 out of those 19 games have gone to OT or a shootout. Their record in the extra frame isn’t really exceptional either — just five wins and three losses.
However, “exceptional” is the word you could easily use to describe the Kraken’s franchise-record three-game winning streak; in particular the effort they put up in their 3-2 victory over the league-leading Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night. The last 18 games for Seattle are split right down the middle — 9-8-1, the longest sustained stretch of .500 hockey this season. While new additions Daniel Sprong, Victor Rask, and Matty Beniers continue to shine, the best news of this latest success is the play of goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger, who have put up cumulative save percentages of .917 and .913 respectively over their last five starts.
Players To Watch
The Minnesota offense is led by a quartet of forwards, all of whom are at or above the 60-point mark this season. 2020-21 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov leads the team with 44 goals (a franchise record) and 97 points:
Next up is Mats Zuccarello, who — at age 34 — is having the best year of his career with 78 points:
Kevin Fiala has also topped his single-season best for goals (32), assists (45), and points (77):
And finally Ryan Hartman, who is absolutely destroying his season-best records, and finally living up to the promise he showed as a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks almost a decade ago. His 61 points is just one shy of double his previous best — but his latest claim to fame, well...
Uh oh. Ryan Hartman gives Evander Kane the finger after a scrum. pic.twitter.com/R5SXu7wx5c— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) April 13, 2022
Injuries, Illnesses, Additions, & Scratches
The Wild made several changes to the roster since we last saw them, all resulting from transactions in the week leading up to the trade deadline in March. Winger Nicholas DeLauriers was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks; defenseman Jacob Middleton was brought in from the San Jose Sharks; center Nico Sturm was shipped off to Colorado in exchange for forward Tyson Jost; and the big move that generated headlines across the league, sending a conditional early-round pick to the Blackhawks to acquire future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Wild do have some players currently on the sidelines, one of whom is significant. This is the time of year when roster size and salary cap considerations go out the window, so nobody is officially on Injured Reserve. But forwards Jordan Greenway and Tyson Jost did not suit up against either Montreal or Vancouver earlier this week; nor did defenseman (this is the big one) Matt Dumba. Jost is reportedly returning to the lineup tonight against the Kraken, but Greenway and Dumba are listed as day-to-day and are doubtful. Earlier this week Minnesota goalie Cam Talbot got his first successive starts since prior to the trade deadline (see note below), so the Kraken will likely be facing the aforementioned Fleury.
No changes expected in Seattle’s lineup, save for the requisite shuffling of healthy-scratch designation. Jaden Schwartz remains out with no timeline for his return; center Morgan Geekie was a scratch against the Avalanche on Wednesday, so we expect him to return tonight; defenseman Haydn Fleury was also scratched in favor of younger brother Cale. It will be interesting to see if Head Coach Dave Hakstol sticks with the roster that was so successful against Colorado, or continues to rotate his younger players through the press box. With Philipp Grubauer starting on Wednesday, we expect to see Chris Driedger in goal for the Kraken tonight.
Odds & Ends
- Since acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline the Wild have a record of 12-1-3. They have achieved this success while alternating starts between Fleury and Cam Talbot, one game each, with near Swiss watch-like precision. It remains to be seen if they will continue this tandem approach into the playoffs; to do so would be something not seen in a long time.
- To make room on the roster for Fleury, the Wild traded erstwhile goalie-of-the-future Kaapo Kahkonen to San Jose. His record so far with the Sharks: 1-4-1. Fleury’s record since joining the Wild is 6-1-0.
- Fleury will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, able to sign with whatever team he wants. It will be interesting to see where he lands — Minnesota, Chicago, Vegas, back in Pittsburgh (!), or somewhere else entirely.
- Kraken youngster Matty Beniers added another assist to his points total on Wednesday, bringing his stat line to two goals and two assists in four games played. That streak is nibbling at the edge of record territory: the last player to begin his NHL career with four points in four games with a new franchise was Bernie Johnston with the Hartford Whalers in 1980; the longest such streak is six games, and the name of the guy that holds that record rhymes with “jet ski”.
- And finally, your Shane Wright Sweepstakes update. As predicted, the Kraken have been playing so well that they have leapt over the Philadelphia Flyers in the overall standings, now sitting at 58 points to Philly’s 57 with one game in hand. The Arizona Coyotes (50) and Montreal Canadiens (51) continue to battle it out for the title of worst overall, and with it the best odds in the NHL Entry Draft Lottery — which on Wednesday was officially scheduled for May 10th. With only six games remaining in the regular season, barring a miracle for the Kraken on the day of the lottery, I think we can safely say that the possibility of drafting Shane Wright is off the table.