The Wild makes its first visit tonight to the brand-spanking new Rogers Place, which I gushed about on yesterday’s blog and got to watch the Oilers win in overtime here last night on a pretty Andrej Sekera to Leon Draisaitl goal.
As Oilers coach Todd McLellan even said to me, it had to be nice to sit and actually enjoy a game for a change and not have to work. And, that’s so true. It was weird actually getting to watch every second of an entire third period and overtime without my face being planted in my laptop for a file-at-the-gun gamer.
I’ll be interested to see how the very desperate Wild (0-1-2 on this five-game trip, 5-6-3 in its past 14) plays against a big, skilled, fast Oilers team that’s feeling mighty good about itself for a change. Usually by this time, as Bruce Boudreau said, the media’s telling them how bad they are and forecasting what type of lottery pick they’ll get (which four of the last seven years has been first overall).
“I think they’re one of the best teams in the league now,” Boudreau said. “I’ve watched them a lot, maybe because Connor McDavid’s fun to watch. They’ve got a bit of everything. They’re big and strong up front, … they can move the puck and Todd’s a good coach, so you add those things together and the fact they’ve had a taste of winning now, …”
I wrote about McDavid – the NHL’s leading scorer -- today, by the way, and you can read that Sunday column here. He may already be the best player in the NHL, and he could be hungry tonight now that his seven-game point streak ended last night.
Boudreau said, sarcastically, that McDavid may be a focal point of the Wild's pregame video.
I’ll also be interested to see how the Wild plays in this sparkling new arena because it certainly loved playing at the old Rexall Place. Want to hear a crazy stat? Before I was the Wild beat writer, the Wild was 2-4-5 (three of those were ties) in Edmonton. In my 12 seasons covering the team, the Wild was 20-8-2 at the Rex, including 11-1 in its last 12 games there with a 38-17 goal advantage. Only three of those 12 games were one-goal games, so the Wild not only usually won at the Rex, it won big.
So, we’ll see if the Wild lost its mojo with the Oilers’ move to downtown.
Same Oilers lineup as last night. I tweeted the lines if you want to look there. Same Wild lines, meaning first through third lines the same as recent games and Kurtis Gabriel (three hits in 7-plus minutes last game) again playing the right side of Chris Stewart and Tyler Graovac. Zack Mitchell and Gustav Olofsson are the scratches for a second straight game.
Boudreau better be careful with the fourth line tonight. I'd probably only play them on the fly and IMMEDIATELY AFTER McDavid plays a shift, but that's me.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Jonas Gustavsson tonight. Cam Talbot played last night against the Ducks, and, quite frankly, was awesome.
Gustavsson is 1-1 in four games this season with a 2.04 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. In four starts against Minnesota, he’s 3-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Dubnyk, the former Oiler, is 3-1 with a 1.51 GAA and .928 SV% in four games since joining the Wild, including 2-0 in Edmonton with a 0.50 GAA, .974 SV% and one shutout.
This season, Dubnyk leads all NHL goalies with four shutouts and ranks second in SV% (.945) to Carey Price (.946 before his game this afternoon) and GAA (1.67) to Tuukka Rask’s 1.60.
In the past 14 games, he has given up 20 goals. Take out the three shutouts, and those 20 goals have come in the last 11 games. Why do I say it like that?
Because he’s 4-5-2 in that span.
Check this out: Despite Dubnyk’s impressive stats, Price has four more wins than Dubnyk’s nine (tied for 14th in the NHL) in large part because the Wild’s offense has dried up since a 32-goal, first nine games.
In Dubnyk’s six regulation losses this season, he allowed 13 goals yet got seven goals of support. In his three overtime/shootout losses, he had given up seven goals yet got six goals of support.
Wild need to start rewarding its goalie for his outstanding performances, or he will crack at some point mentally in my opinion.
“He sure has given our players faith,” Boudreau said. “He’s played as well – touch wood – as any goalie in the NHL this year so far. When he’s out there, it seems every time he’s played, he steals us a game or a point at least. And he is calm. You don’t see him panicking, and that affects the whole team.”
When a reporter said, “They’re not afraid to make a mistake maybe,” Boudreau interrupted, “And we make a lot.”
Hey, but at least they’re not afraid to make mistakes!
I chatted with Zach Parise today, and he survived that painful blocked shot from the first period. He said Boudreau’s meeting with the top line yesterday should be very beneficial after two poor games in a row.
“I think it was very productive,” Parise said. “It’s easy to leave a game and be mad and frustrated, but I think it was good for us to look at it and see the reasons, ‘Why don’t we have the puck? Why are we not getting the puck back? Why aren’t we getting any scoring chances?’ It’s not as if we just [stink] all of a sudden. There’s reasons behind things. So, I think watching the tape, there were probably two or three things that we consistently did that didn’t allow us to get the puck the entire game [in Calgary]. So, if we fix those things, at least give yourself a chance to get the puck back, at least give yourself a chance to get the puck in the offensive zone or get the puck up the ice clean, then all of a sudden you get in the zone and you have zone time and you feel good about hockey again. It’s a quick fix. It’s not, like I said, you don’t forget how to play. Us as a line, we have to rely on each other to do and expect the other guy to do their job. And if they’re not doing their job, the forecheck’s not going to work and we’re going to backcheck. That’s what we’ve been doing a lot of lately, so it was good to see it and it was good for us to talk about it and recognize it.”
Talk tonight. I’ll be on CHED here in Edmonton at 7:45 p.m. CT.