The Chicago Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild for some post-Easter hockey at the United Center on Monday night.
As with several of the Blackhawks' recent opponents, there are playoff implications for this game, as the Wild are still in a heated fight for placement within the Central Division. The Wild currently sit in third, just two points behind both the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, though the latter has one game in hand. Minnesota has been solid lately with a 6-2-2 record in its last 10 games, but the other two teams have been outpacing them: Dallas has gone 7-2-1 and Colorado is 8-2-0.
The fact that the Wild are in the battle for the top seed in the division is interesting because, outside of being one of the best in terms of goals against per game, they are a pretty mediocre team. They are excellent at quality shot suppression – their expected goals against rate (2.47 per 60) is seventh best in the league at 5-on-5 – but they're not a strong a puck-possession team and the quantity of shots they allow – 31.1 per game, only good for 16th in the league – is middle of the pack. Additionally, despite having a top-20 forward in Kirill Kaprizov with his 1.12 points-per-game rate, the Wild's offense is in the bottom 10 of the league. But Minnesota's ability to prevent high-danger chances, combined with the third best save percentage (.930 percent), has translated into winning games.
The Wild's already so-so offense took a hit on Saturday when it was announced that Joel Eriksson Ek was week-to-week and Oskar Sundqvist was day-to-day, both with undisclosed lower-body injuries. Eriksson Ek is third on the Wild in points with 61 (23 G, 38 A) in 78 games, while Sundqvist has shown he can provide solid depth production with his 0.47 point-per-game rate since he was acquired by the Wild back on March 3. There is a chance that the Wild will play top prospect Marco Rossi against the Blackhawks, as they recalled him Sunday, but he currently only has one assist in 16 NHL games so far this season. The Wild also just added another top prospect in defenseman Brock Faber, who signed on Sunday after his Minnesota team lost in the NCAA championship. He was reportedly on the team's flight to Chicago but no word if his NHL debut is coming yet.
Not that the Wild will have to bring much offense or be particularly on top of their game when it comes to quality suppression when facing the Blackhawks: the Wild won the three previous contests between these two teams, outscoring the Blackhawks 11-6. And four of the goals by the Blackhawks came in a single game back in October when the makeup of the team was much different. In the last meeting, the Wild defeated the Blackhawks 3-1, though the fact that the Wild owned 60.18 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5 suggested the score was closer than the actual performance on ice.
P.S. I don't know about you, but this Wild team has endeared themselves to me recently thanks to how they've handled whiney trash baby Jordan Binnington: both when Marc-Andre Fleury wanted to fight him last month and Ryan Hartman embarrassing Crybabyington came way out for a poke check on Saturday:
Tale of the Tape (statistics from this season)
Blackhawks — Statistic — Wild
43.41% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 49.73% (19th)
42.12% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 50.04% (19th)
2.42 (32nd) — Goals per game — 2.92 (24th)
3.65 (27th) — Goals against per game — 2.66 (5th)
52.7% (6th) — Faceoffs — 47.8% (26th)
16.4% (29th) — Power play — 21.7% (14th)
76.2% (21st) — Penalty kill — 81.4% (11th)
How to watch
When: 8 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
Radio: WGN 720