There’s no time to waste in this season of cramming games in wherever we can—the Hawks are now going to be playing a double-header this weekend against the Wild, the first tilt between these teams this season. What could go wrong?
Game Time: 7:30 PM Friday / 8 PM Saturday
TV/Radio: NHL Network, NBCSCH+, WGN 720
-30 wind chill: Hockey Wilderness
The Wild started out the season hot, winning four in a row to begin the season and going on an eight-game win streak in late November and early December. Following that, however, the Wild have only won three of their last nine games and are now holding onto the 1st wild card spot in the Western Conference, four points behind the Predators because neither of these teams can ever leave the mushy middle of the Western Conference for some reason.
Offensively, the team is led almost exclusively by Kaprizov (first on the team in assists, points, shooting percentage, and offensive point shares according to hockey-reference). Just about as offensively productive is his 1st-line centerman and our old friend Ryan Hartman, who is having a career year and blowing all of his past stats completely out of the water. In just half a season, he’s surpassed all of his previous seasons’ stats, including his one full season he had in Chicago at the beginning of his career. Mats Zuccarello rounds out the Wild’s first line, who like Hartman is likely also benefitting from Kaprizov’s elite playmaking abilities.
The points production definitely tapers off from there, especially considering the myriad of COVID and injury-ridden players they’ve been dealing with. However, Wild fans must be pleased to hear that Joel Eriksson Ek will be making his return Friday to center the 2nd line. Additionally, they are hoping that Cam Talbot can start one of the games—he’s 34 and hasn’t started since January 1, so he could be a bit rusty if we do see him. Finally, Jared Spurgeon may or may not be returning this weekend, but I’m pretty sure nobody gives a shit.
Overall the biggest issue facing the Wild is their bonkers schedule coming up. Wild fans and media members are mad as hell that they have to play 40 games in 77 days thanks to COVID-related cancellations because of their opponents, apparently, and not the Wild themselves. The NHL certainly could’ve spaced more of their rescheduled games out, especially when you look at the multiple stretches of off-days the Wild have had during the month of January. The team will probably be exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around, and that’s if they don’t go on another cold streak and lose their wild card spot. Everyone up north is hoping their top line will see it through to the end, though.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, Seth Jones returns this weekend after missing his return to Columbus and then some with COVID. Dylan Strome is slated to return this weekend as well; he’s only had three assists in his last five games played but seems to be slotting right back into a first-line center role in practice, and with Dach still out he’ll likely stay there. The Hawks’ lack of center depth continues, I guess.
Interestingly, Rockford goalie Cale Morris has been placed on the Hawks’ active roster, despite both Fleury and Lankinen at practice and seemingly healthy. We’ll see how things shake up there, though I would be surprised to see Morris play. Without Fleury in net making every save imaginable, it’s much harder for the Hawks to win as they continue to be out-chanced and out-possessed by most of their opponents. More players stepping up and scoring goals this weekend would be advantageous, as the Wild are going to be the playoff-contending warmup for the Hawks before two games against the Avalanche later next week—God save us.