As the Wild dropped eight of 10 games and went from playoff shoo-in to being on the bubble in the Western Conference, one of the biggest concerns was in goal. Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen were struggling and general manager Bill Guerin knew he had to do something about it.
The Wild had won four of six by last Monday when Guerin sent a conditional second-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Kahkonen was shipped to San Jose in a separate deal at the NHL trade deadline.
Talbot has played even better since Fleury’s arrival, and Fleury made 23 saves in his Wild debut on Saturday in a 3-2 overtime victory against Columbus at Xcel Energy Center. Talbot followed that with a brilliant 40-save effort in a 3-2 overtime win against Colorado on Sunday, giving Minnesota three consecutive overtime wins and a 6-1-0 record on a nine-game homestand that will continue against Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Talbot was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for his performance as he went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average, .959 saves percentage and one shutout last week. All three of those wins for Talbot — against Vegas, Vancouver and Colorado — have come since Guerin’s deadline moves.
Overall, Talbot has an eight-game winning streak in which he has posted a 2.23 goals against and .923 saves percentage. In his previous four starts before the streak, he was 0-4-0 with a 4.43 goals against and .863 saves percentage.
Wild coach Dean Evason has some tough choices to make when it comes to which goalie to start and that choice could be even tougher when the playoffs arrive. While Talbot certainly was challenged by the acquisition of Fleury, there is no controversy here. Both veterans get it and are part of a locker room that appears to be very tight.
In other words, this is a great problem (if you can call it that) for Evason to have.
- The acquisition of Jake Middleton in the Kahkonen trade, has created an odd man out in the Wild’s defensive rotation. Dmitry Kulikov sat against the Canucks, Jon Merrill against the Blue Jackets and Alex Goligoski against the Avalanche. The last one is an interesting situation. Goligoski, in his first season with the Wild, has played in 982 career games over 15 seasons. That leaves him 18 games away from reaching the magic number of 1,000 career regular-season games and that is exactly how many games remain in the Wild’s season. So if Goligoski is scratched one more time between now and the April 29 regular-season finale against Colorado the 36-year-old will fall short of the milestone.
- Kirill Kaprizov’s slow start — he didn’t score a goal until the ninth game of the season — is long forgotten and the winger has proven he belongs in the Top 10 of NHL superstars. Kaprizov’s 36 goals are six shy of Marian Gaborik (2007-08) and Eric Staal’s (2017-18) team record of 42 in a season, and Kaprizov is two points from tying Gaborik’s single-season franchise mark of 83 set in 2007-09. Kaprizov has played in 63 games this season. Gaborik accumulated his point total in 77 games.
- Kahkonen has made one start since joining the Sharks. He stopped 36 of 40 shots in a 5-2 loss at Edmonton last Thursday.
- Center Victor Rask, whom the Wild essentially gave to Seattle at the deadline to create salary-cap space, made his debut with the expansion Kraken on Saturday night against the Kings in Los Angeles. Rask was a minus-1 with one shot on goal in 14 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time.
- It’s amazing looking back at the hits-and-misses for short-term Wild general manager Paul Fenton. He basically gave away Nino Niederreiter (for Rask) and Charlie Coyle (for Ryan Donato) in trades to Carolina and Boston, respectively, but he also signed free agent winger Mats Zuccarello to a much-criticized five-year, $30 million contract in 2019 and acquired winger Kevin Fiala from Nashville. Zuccarello had a rough first season in Minnesota but his chemistry with Kaprizov on the first line has been a huge part of Kaprizov’s success. Zuccarello has a career-high 48 assists and Fiala has 22 goals this season. That is one off his career best.
- D’Angelo Russell has been one of the Wolves’ most important players at times this season, but there also have been stretches where he seems to disappear. That’s what has happened to the guard of late and it’s clear the Wolves need to get him going. Russell had only four points on 1-for-6 shooting (0-for-3 from three) with six assists in 31 minutes on Sunday in a 134-112 loss in Boston. Russell also struggled in the Wolves’ 125-116 loss to Phoenix last Wednesday at Target Center. He has six points on 3-for-9 shooting with seven assists in 27 minutes. He has scored six points or fewer in four of his past 10 games and is averaging 11.7 points and shooting 36 percent from the field.
- Gophers standout junior center Ben Meyers of Delano, Minn., will have to wait to pick an NHL team now that the men’s hockey team has reached the Frozen Four. But Meyers, an undrafted free agent, certainly isn’t complaining given the Gophers’ success. Jess Myers of the Rink Live reported recently that Meyers has attracted the attention of numerous NHL teams, including the Minnesota Wild. Meyers, 23, had two goals and two assists in four games for the United States at the Beijing Olympics and he leads the Gophers with 17 goals and 41 points in 33 games this season.
- Center Jack McBain, a third-round pick of the Wild in 2018 out of Boston College, signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes after being dealt last week by Minnesota. McBain had told the Wild he wouldn’t sign with them because of the organization’s depth at center. Remarkably, Guerin was still able to get a second-round pick (in this year’s draft) for the rights to McBain.