Game Preview: Minnesota Wild at Washington Capitals


With the Minnesota Wild at the Washington Capitals its all about the post-season.  Both teams had high expectations going into this season and their playoff hopes are still very much in the balance.  The Wild are hoping to keep their road magic alive after earning points in their last two road games.  The Washington Capitals are trying to continue building momentum after having won its last 2 games including a 5-3 victory over Columbus on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild padded their organizational depth by adding defenseman Jordan Leopold (thanks in part to his daughter Jordyn) as well as right winger Chris Stewart.  Washington did not make any moves on deadline day itself, but more about their pre-deadline day moves a little bit later.

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  • It certainly wasn’t their most impressive win of the season on Tuesday night after squandering a 2-0 lead to hold on in a shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators.  You can see Gone Puck Wild‘s Alex Trembley‘s summary of the game here.  Yet its tough to be too critical since the team still managed to skate away with two points and keep themselves entrenched in 7th place in the Western Conference.

    "“I’ve got confidence putting him on the ice against any matchup, any pairing.” ~ Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo on the confidence he has in defenseman Mathew Dumba"

    While the goal posts help save the Wild’s bacon on multiple occasions on Tuesday the star of the night was the play of young defenseman Mathew Dumba.  Dumba not only scored twice, but was involved in just about everything as the team ended finding itself shorthanded on its blueline as Nate Prosser had to bow out mid-game due to an illness.  The offensively gifted blueliner seems to be finding his groove has 3 goals, +6 with 13 shots on goal in the Wild’s last 5 games.  His strong play at both ends of the ice meant he’s steadily been getting more ice time as he’s now regularly logging around 19 minutes per game and that reflects an endorsement of confidence from the Wild coaching staff.

    Another young Wild player that is taking off offensively lately is Mikael Granlund.  Granlund has 1 goal, 5 assists, is a +4 with 7 shots on goal in the Wild’s last 5 games.  Conversely, there is the lagging performance of Thomas Vanek.  Vanek has just 1 goal, and is a -1 with 8 shots on goal in the last 5 games (in two of those games he failed to register a single shot).  He needs to prove to this team and his fans that he won’t disappear as the games get more intense like he did a season ago with the Montreal Canadiens.

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  • The team’s success as a whole still seems to depend on the continued strong play from Devan Dubnyk who broke a Wild-franchise record by starting in his 21st consecutive game on Tuesday.  The numbers speak for themselves; a 16-3-1 record, a 1.65 goals against average and a .937 save percentage with 5 shutouts since joining the team on January 15th.  The Wild do not seem to be in any hurry to rest up Dubnyk, but tonight’s game is the first of a back-to-back as they travel to Carolina on Friday which may see the Wild finally let Darcy Kuemper see some game action.  Kuemper’s last game was in relief of Dubnyk (against Detroit) back on January 20th.

    The Washington Capitals have built themselves around Alex Ovechkin who works in tandem with an elite playmaker in Nicklas Backstrom.  They’ve had a decent supporting cast too but for whatever reason that has not translated into any sort of tangible post-season progress.  Washington was tired of spinning its wheels so they axed Head Coach Adam Oates and General Manager George McPhee and replaced them with Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan respectively.

    "“I’m used to sort of lying in the weeds and being quieter, but it’s OK, I’m more relaxed with it now than I would have been maybe 10 years ago.  I’m not going to change.  It’s too late for that.” ~ Washington Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz"

    Many wondered if a defensive-oriented coach like Trotz would mesh well with Washington’s roster which was not always known for being responsible defensively.  It didn’t start out too well, but they have recovered nicely and the Capitals sit comfortably in 7th place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-point cushion from 8th place Boston.  The Capitals are 6-4 in their last 10 games.  

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  • Working with elite set up man Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin is back to his Maurice “Rocket” Richard goal-scoring pace as he’s buried 43 goals this season which is currently four more than the Rangers’ Rick Nash placing him in 1st for the league.  Ovechkin has 5 goals, 1 assist, -1 with 26 shots on goal in the Capitals’ last 5 games.   The Wild will probably tab Erik Haula (who has been playing much better as of late) with the job of shutting Ovie down.  Yet there are reports that Ovechkin has suffered a lower-body injury and may be unavailable for tonight’s game which would be very fortunate for the Wild.

    Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Eric Fehr provide most of the secondary scoring but the organization felt they could use a little more size and strength as well as another guy who can chip in offensively.  This is also where the team hopes to reap the benefits of those summer moves to bring in veteran defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.

    In order to make sure they don’t lose momentum the team traded a 2nd round and a 3rd round pick in 2015 to Calgary the day before the deadline for rugged winger Curtis Glencross as well as trading Jack Hillen and a 4th round pick in 2015 for defenseman Tim Gleason.  Glencross is the kind of big bodied winger that can play in a top 9 role that has reasonable hands that you want for the post-season.  Gleason is a no-nonsense stay-at-home defenseman who will augment Washington’s blueline depth.

    The Wild hoped to have Jared Spurgeon back for tonight’s game.  Spurgeon’s return would help Minnesota elude the two-man forechecking schemes the Capitals employ.  The Wild struggled on Tuesday in part because of poor breakout passes and Spurgeon’s return could have go a long way towards remedying that problem.  Unfortunately he will be out of the Wild’s lineup this evening.

    It will be interesting to see who gets scratched as Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo tries to figure out which line combinations work the best. So what will the lines be?

    Minnesota Wild Lines:









    Washington Capitals Lines:

    Johansson – Backstrom – Ovechkin
    Glencross –  KuznetsovBrouwer

    Orpik – Carlson
    Green – Gleason


    Next: Chris Stewart Should Spend Some Time With Charlie Coyle

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