This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
The Minnesota Wild may not need much more praise heaped upon them this season. Then again, how often have the Wild been an attention-getting team in the NHL? They may play in the State of Hockey, but they aren't exactly in a big market. The Wild deserve a little extra love while they can get it. They have been the best team in the Western Conference, but what's impressive is just how much better they've been than their competitors.
The San Jose Sharks have the second-best goal differential in the league at plus-17. That's a fine goal differential at this point of the year. The Wild are in first place…with a plus-46 goal differential. Yes, the Wild have a goal differential almost 30 goals better than the next best team. That's crazy. Perhaps we can chalk that up to competition a bit. Over in the East, five teams have a goal differential above 20.
This makes Minnesota look like the prohibitive favorites to make it out of the West. Will the Wild be going to their first Stanley Cup? It's not a given. Devan Dubnyk has a .936 save percentage, which is bound to regress. The team seems to lack a "star," with respect to Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and, I suppose, Eric Staal. Chicago still has a ton of top line talent. San Jose could repeat as Western Conference champs. Hey, maybe Connor McDavid takes the Oilers to the promised land. Right now, though, Minnesota is dominating their competition in many respects. Maybe the Wild will do what the North Stars never could.
Capitals (PP: 14, PK: 3) at Stars (PP: 19, PK: 29), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Philipp Grubauer (8-1-2, 1.96, .927), Kari Lehtonen (9-13-4, 2.83, .902)
Key Injuries:Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee), Johnny Oduya (lower body), Jamie Oleksiak (hand), John Carlson (lower body)
Even with Grubauer projected to start instead of Braden Holtby, clearly the Capitals don't have much to worry about. Washington actually has the best goals against average in the league. In fact, at 2.07 goals per game, they are doing notably better at goal prevention than even the two teams tied for second, Minnesota and Columbus (2.20). Dallas, meanwhile, are on the opposite end of the spectrum, allowing 3.13 goals per game on average. Both Marcus Johansson and T.J. Oshie are providing some real secondary scoring for the Capitals, but they are likely to see some regression soon. Oshie has a shooting percentage of 20.0, and it's actually lower than Johansson's (22.4). If Carlson can't play, it'll hurt Washington's defense. His 106 shots are second-most on the team. Without him, Matt Niskanen is Washington's top right defenseman on the depth chart. Patrick Eaves is still tied for the team lead in goals for Dallas with 16. While he maybe isn't getting as much attention as he was early on the year, he hasn't exactly fallen off a cliff. Seven of his goals have come since the beginning of December. Meanwhile, John Klingberg has put his struggles behind him. While he's a minus-3 after finishing last season plus-22, he has 10 power-play points, and he's actually on pace to score more goals than the 10 he had last year.
Ducks (PP: 11, PK: 14) at Wild (PP: 10, PK: 5), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:John Gibson (19-10-8, 2.26, .922), Devan Dubnyk (24-8-3, 1.88, .936)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Clayton Stoner (abdomen), Nate Thompson (achilles), Jonas Brodin (finger)
Here's a battle between two division leaders. The excellence of the Wild so far has already been discussed at length. Don't count out Anaheim, though. Gibson is having a quietly good season, and the Ducks actually rank fifth in goals allowed per game. Admittedly, they only rank 19th in goals per game, but that's with Ryan Getzlaf (8.0) and Corey Perry (6.1) having low shooting percentages. Perry has put 132 shots on net but only has eight goals. Meanwhile, Nick Ritchie has 11 goals, but only five assists. Cam Fowler only has one point in his last 15 games. Eric Staal was mentioned above, and he leads the Wild in goals (16) and points (40). While he's no longer thought of as one of the league's elite players, it was only two years ago he scored 23 goals on 244 shots in 77 games. Chris Stewart, who has 56 penalty minutes, also has 10 goals. He's one of seven Wild players with double-digit goals, but he's done it on only 46 shots, and he only has three assists.
Oilers (PP: 13, PK: 18) at Flames (PP: 12, PK: 16), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Cam Talbot (24-12-6, 2.42, .918), Chad Johnson (16-11-3, 2.31, .920)
Key Injuries:Andrew Ference (hip), Darnell Nurse (ankle), Tyler Pitlick (knee)
The Oilers played Friday, and Cam Talbot got the start, but he's projected to start again. This is presumably because they don't want to give Laurent Brossoit a start if they can avoid it. If five of his last six starts, Johnson has only allowed two goals or fewer. Although, that's partially because the Flames only allow 28.1 shots on goal per contest on average. Of course, they also only take 29 shots per tilt on average, so their offense hasn't exactly lit the world on fire either. Mikael Backlund leads the Flames in points, and also power-play points. He's notched 12 points with the extra man, including six goals. Backlund also is tied for the team lead in goals with Monahan. That's because Monahan has scored a goal in his last four games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is second on the Oilers in shots on goal with 134, but he only has nine goals. He's been unlucky in that respect, but he's also a minus-12, which is the worst rating on the team. Patrick Maroon has sort of been the flipside of the RNH coin. He's scored a team-leading 18 goals on 107 shots, giving him a much better shooting percentage. Maroon is also a plus-14.
Blues (PP: 8, PK: 6) at Jets (PP: 18, PK: 26), 3:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jake Allen (17-12-3, 2.85, .897), Connor Hellebuyck (16-13-1, 2.82, .907)
Key Injuries:Marko Dano (lower body), Patrik Laine (concussion), Tyler Myers (lower body)
The Blues only give up an average of 27.4 shots on goal per game, but they are still allowing a ton of goals because of awful goaltending. This is not a battle of dynamic defenses. Colton Parayko has taken the second-most shots on the Blues (110) but only has two goals. This matchup could work out well for the likes of Nokolaj Ehlers, who has 15 goals and 25 assists this season.
It's the league's best power play against the league's best penalty kill! Who will win this battle? Considering the Hurricanes played on Friday, and will likely start Ward on back-to-back nights because of Lack's concussion, the edge goes to Columbus. Although, Ward did end up giving up seven goals Friday, so maybe he will actually get the day off. Still, you may want to be a little skeptical about Alexander Wennberg, who has notched 16 of his 36 points with the extra man.
Senators (PP: 20, PK: 13) at Maple Leafs (PP: 2, PK: 4), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Mike Condon (12-7-3, 2.35, .920), Frederik Andersen (19-10-7, 2.71, .918)
Key Injuries:Craig Anderson (personal), Andrew Hammond (ankle), Joffrey Lupul (abdomen), Martin Marincin (lower body), Morgan Rielly (lower body), Ben Smith (hand)
Toronto has truly amazing special teams, even though they allow 32.8 shots on net a night on average. That bodes well for Mike Hoffman, who has 14 goals on 118 shots. Since returning from a three-game absence, Tyler Bozak has 10 points (six power-play points) in 10 games.
Sabres (PP: 6, PK: 30) at Canadiens (PP: 9, PK: 23), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Robin Lehner (10-12-5, 2.54, .920), Carey Price (21-9-4, 2.35, .920)
Key Injuries:Josh Gorges (hip), Dmitry Kulikov (back), David Desharnais (knee), Brendan Gallagher (hand), Andrei Markov (lower body), Greg Pateryn (ankle)
The Canadiens decided to start Al Montoya on Friday, leaving Price to get the nod Saturday. However, in his last six starts, Price has allowed at least three goals five times. Buffalo also played Friday, so neither team gets the advantage on that front. Both of these power plays definitely have the advantage, though, especially now that Alex Galchenyuk, who notched three points Friday, is back.
Kings (PP: 23, PK: 9) at Islanders (PP: 29, PK: 19), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Peter Budaj (20-13-3, 2.12, .917), Thomas Greiss (12-7-2, 2.29, .927)
Key Injuries:Jonathan Quick (groin), Tyler Toffoli (lower body), Johnny Boychuk (upper body), Cal Clutterbuck (undisclosed), Mikhail Grabovski (concussion), Travis Hamonic (knee), Andrew Ladd (undisclosed)
The Kings allow the fewest shots per game on average (25.9), while the Islanders allow the second most (33.0). Advantage Kings, especially for Drew Doughty, who has tallied 108 shots on goal. However, Alec Martinez still has more points than Doughty (25 to 23).
Devils (PP: 27, PK: 9) at Flyers (PP: 5, PK: 20), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Keith Kinkaid (5-4-2, 2.59, .921), Steve Mason (14-15-6, 2.95, .897)
Key Injuries:Yohann Auvitu (lower body), Vernon Fiddler (lower body), Andy Greene (upper body), John Moore (concussion), Cory Schneider (illness), Matt Read (lower body)
Kinkaid had actually been better than Schneider this season, so having Kinkaid in net might not necessarily be a bad thing. Despite missing 10 games with injury, Taylor Hall leads the Devils in points. Rookie Ivan Provorov actually has one more point than Shayne Gostisbehere, although to be fair Provorov has played in three more games.
Lightning (PP: 3, PK: 21) at Coyotes (PP: 25, PK: 27), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Ben Bishop (11-10-3, 2.64, .910), Mike Smith (8-13-5, 2.99, .914)
Key Injuries:Max Domi (hand), Martin Hanzal (personal), Brad Richardson (leg), J.T. Brown (face), Ryan Callahan (hip), Victor Hedman (illness), Brayden Point (upper body), Steven Stamkos (knee)
Even with all the injuries and illnesses, this is a matchup the Lightning can take advantage of. This is especially true for Jonathan Drouin who has six points and 24 shots on net in his last six games. Radim Vrbata is the only Coyote with double-digit goals, although Hanzal has nine in 37 games.
Avalanche (PP: 26, PK: 24) at Sharks (PP: 22, PK: 11), 10:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Calvin Pickard (7-12-1, 3.01, .904), Martin Jones (23-14-2, 2.25, .916)
Key Injuries:Tyson Barrie (lower body), Erik Johnson (leg), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Tomas Hertl (knee)
The Sharks have been mediocre at scoring goals (2.61 per game on average), but even they can take advantage of the Avalanche, who have the worst goals against average in the league (3.35). Brent Burns doesn't need any help, of course. He's got a whopping 19 goals and 47 points.
Sebastian Aho, LW, CAR – This has been a rather good season for rookies, so it's easy to overlook somebody like Aho. The 19-year-old Finn has notched 11 goals and 13 assists in 45 games, and just as importantly he's put 113 shots on goal in that time. His play has picked up a bit recently as well, as he's tallied six goals on 42 shots in his last 14 games. Aho isn't a huge power-play contributor yet, he's only notched four power-play points while averaging 1:54 per game with the extra man, but he's already shown himself to be a legitimate offensive contributor. In the future, Aho will likely grow into the kind of player owned in basically every fantasy league. Right now, though, he's a readily available option at left wing that could give your fantasy team's offense a little boost.