Alexander Shun | @alexpshun
Digital Content Manager | KFAN.com
We are the virtual midway point of the 2016-17 NHL season and, thus far, it has been better than expected for the Minnesota Wild.
Sitting atop the Western Conference, the Wild are scoring the fourth-most goals per game (3.26) and allowing the second-fewest goals per game (2.26). Certainly improvement from last season was expected given the roster moves that were made and the addition of new head coach Bruce Boudreau, but to improve so dramatically is certainly a surprise. And a welcome one at that.
The Wild have been playing so well that they have not lost consecutive games in regulation and since the start of December have played 25 games and have a record of 20-3-2.
Minnesota is coming off a 3-2 shootout win over the Dallas Stars during which Chris Stewart scored the backhand winner to send the Wild home victorious. The Wild will now look to put together a winning streak as they play their final game before the All-Star Break as they host the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center tonight.
We're pretty familiar with these guys obviously," Jason Zucker said. "They're a strong team, they're fast, they're skilled. They make a lot of great plays so it should be a good matchup for us."
"We definitely can't afford to be lackadaisical," Stewart said Thursday morning after the team's practice. "They're definitely not thinking that way. They're thinking of coming in and getting a win here before the break and we want to keep what we've been building here rolling so we have to handle business before we go on this three day break."
The rival Blues are coming off a huge win of their own, having blanked the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Tuesday night and will look to gain some momentum heading into the second-half of the season.
"That’s a team that we’ve seen a lot of already. They play a great brand of hockey and they’re good at home," Blues goalie Carter Hutton said, speaking about Thursday night's contest against the Wild. "They don’t really give up too much, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge. But I think it’s going to be one that we’re going to embrace and have fun doing it."
Hutton, will likely start tonight over Jake Allen, was in goal when St. Louis shut out the Penguins and has had a great deal of success against the Wild in the past, posting a 2-0-1 record in his previous three starts against Minnesota.
If Minnesota can capture a win over their Central Division rivals tonight, they can not only (potentially) increase their lead over the second place Chicago Blackhawks, but they can maintain their hold on first place in the Western Conference, provided they maintain their focus and don't look ahead to the All-Star Break. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk doesn't believe that the team will have any trouble staying focused.
"It's an important game," Dubnyk said. "We're playing a divisional team that is always a difficult game. It makes it that much more important and that much easier to really focus on it. But I don't think anybody in here has thought too much about the break."