Wild coach Dean Evason has found a successful formula by rotating his two veteran goaltenders. So will he change that in the playoffs?
That will be one of the big questions as the Wild’s first-round series against the St. Louis Blues approaches. Cam Talbot started the day the Wild acquired Marc-Andre Fleury from Chicago at the trade deadline (March 21) and then got the start in the next game against Vancouver.
Fleury was between the pipes two nights later for a win over Columbus. The Wild was set to play their 14th game since that time on Tuesday in Montreal and Fleury and Talbot have rotated in every game. That meant the net was Talbot’s on Tuesday and Fleury likely will get the start on Thursday against Vancouver at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild had gone 9-1-3 with the goalies switching off and you have to wonder if Evason will keep it going in the postseason. The Wild have seven regular-season games remaining and as it currently works out Fleury would be in line to start the playoff opener next month against the Blues.
Talbot started all three of the Wild’s games (0-1-2) against the Blues this season. He gave up six goals on 28 shots before being lifted because of injury in a 6-4 loss in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Target Field and then surrendered four goals on 28 shots and six goal on 30 shots in two overtime losses this month in St. Louis.
Fleury, who was part of three Stanley Cup winning teams during his 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, started all seven games last spring in Vegas’ first round series victory over the Wild. He gave up 12 goals on 173 shots as veteran Robin Lehner watched from the bench. Fleury ended up starting 16 of Vegas’ 19 playoff games before being traded to Chicago in the offseason.
Fleury, 37, has started 154 of the 162 playoff games in which he has appeared, posting a 90-70 record with a 2.53 goals against and .912 save percentage. Talbot, 34, has started 30 of 32 playoff games, including all seven against Vegas last season, and is 15-15 with a 2.45 goals against and .923 saves percentage.
The one thing that is clear is Fleury and Talbot have pushed each other, in a very positive way, since the trade deadline. According to Natural Stat Trick, among goalies (32) who have logged 300 minutes, Fleury is fourth in goals against (1.62), second in goals saved above average (6.84), second in save percentage (.948) and third in high-danger save percentage (.879). Talbot is first in goals against (1.59), fifth in GSAA (6.39), third in save percentage (.947) but 28th in high-danger save percentage (.750).
Teams often like to ride the hot hand when it comes to goaltending in the playoffs, but Evason might be tempted to keep the rotation going as long as both Fleury and Talbot are playing well.
- ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the Vikings taking LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., with the 12th overall pick in their combined three-round mock draft. Kiper made the Vikings’ first- and second-round selections, choosing Colorado State tight end Trey McBride with the 46th pick. McShay then took Texas A&M defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal with the Vikings’ third-round pick at No. 77.
- McShay has the New York Jets selecting Gophers standout linebacker Boye Mafe with the third pick of the second round (No. 35), and the Los Angeles Chargers taking Gophers offensive tackle Daniel Faalele with the 79th pick in the third round.
- Former Twins first baseman C.J. Cron is off to a hot start with the Colorado Rockies, hitting .317/.349/.780 with five home runs (tied for the major league lead) and 10 RBIs in 10 games. Cron slashed .281/.375/.530 with 28 home runs and 92 RBIs in 142 games last season with the Rockies.
- Twins first baseman Miguel Sano is off to a 2-for-30 start (he’s slashing .067/.263/.167) with a home run and two RBIs in 10 games. Right fielder Max Kepler also is struggling early in the season, hitting .156/.289/.281 with a home run and three RBIs in 10 games. Kepler is making $6.75 million in the fourth year of a $35 million, five-year deal that includes a $10 million club option for 2024. The buyout on that season would be $1 million. Kepler hit 36 home runs in 134 games in 2019, but has 29 combined home runs in 179 games in the past two-plus seasons.
- The Timberwolves are expecting sold out crowds of 19,000-plus this week for Games 3 and 4 of their first-round playoff series against Memphis. There might be a few single-game tickets remaining but otherwise all of the tickets have been sold and the sections of the arena that were tarped off will be open.
- Wild defenseman Jake Middleton, obtained from San Jose for goalie Kaapo Kahkonen at the NHL trade deadline, has proven to be a solid addition playing on the top pairing with captain Jared Spurgeon. Middleton has a goal and three points in 14 games since joining Minnesota after registering three goals and nine points in 45 games with San Jose. Middleton, who is 6-3, 219 pounds, is known for his physical style of play — he has 82 combined penalty minutes this season — but what is surprising is his ability and comfort to jump into plays in the offensive zone.
- Kahkonen returned to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday for the first time since the trade, although he did not get the start in goal for the Sharks, and received a nice ovation when he was recognized during the first television timeout. He is 0-4-1 with a 3.28 goals against average and .914 save percentage in seven games and six starts for San Jose. Kahkonen was 12-8-3 with 2.87 goals against and .910 save percentage in 25 games and 23 starts with the Wild this season.
- Center fielder Byron Buxton, who left the Friday’s game in Boston because of a knee issue, could return during the Twins’ series three-game series this week in Kansas City.
- The Gophers men’s basketball program got some good news when Prior Lake’s Dawson Garcia, who began his collegiate career at Marquette before transferring to North Carolina, decided to return home to be closer to his family. Because this is the 6-foot-11 Garcia’s second transfer, the Gophers will need a hardship waiver granted by the NCAA for him to become immediately eligible. But because he left North Carolina for family medical reasons, it’s likely Garcia will be cleared to join Ben Johnson’s team.