The Minnesota Wild will be playing the second game of a back-to-back situation when they entertain the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night. Minnesota was off to a mediocre 2-2-2 start heading into a road date with Dallas on Friday. The Lightning are coming off consecutive home victories over Columbus, Carolina, and Detroit.
Tampa Bay is no stranger to coming out of the gates strong at the beginning of the season. The Lightning started the 2017-18 campaign with a dominant 15-2-2 record and they are 4-1 through five games this time around. A five-game home-stand helped, as Tampa went 1-1 in its first two contests (with the win coming in a shootout) but then picked up the pace to take three in a row–all in regulation by a combined score of 15-5.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) October 19, 2018
“You look at that chunk (of opening games) before the season started, and you want to get a good amount of points out of it,” said forward Ryan Callahan, who returned from May shoulder surgery ahead of schedule and played in his first game of the season on Thursday. “Especially with a five-game road trip coming up.”
“To be honest, (our record) should have been 5-0,” added captain Steven Stamkos, who scored his first goal of the season during Thursday’s 3-1 victory over the Red Wings. “Our [penalty kill] has been outstanding; our goaltending has been outstanding. Our power play is definitely gaining some momentum.”
How good has the penalty kill been? Well, the Lightning are an amazing 23-for-23 in that department.
Minnesota has taken at least one point in four of its last five games. The Wild lost their first two road outings of the season (to Colorado and Nashville) but returned to the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday and rallied for a 2-1 victory over Arizona. Eric Staal scored the only goal of the third period to provide for the game-winner.
“I think we’re getting closer to our style and closer to our game,” Staal noted. “I think our execution can still get better, but it’s getting better. We’re spending more time in the offensive zone. I think we’re making the plays that we need to.”
Forward Zach Parise, who missed 40 games due to injury during the 2017-18 campaign, is healthy and producing in the early going with a goal and six assists for a team-high seven points in addition to a plus-4 rating. Forward Jason Zucker, who has put a team-high 22 shots on net, leads Minnesota with three goals. Defenseman Ryan Suter has contributed five points. Captain Mikko Koivu missed Tuesday’s game to be with his in-labor wife and could return this weekend, while Matt Read got recalled after fellow forward Matt Hendricks suffered a lower-body injury against Arizona. Hendricks is expected to be sidelined for two to three weeks. Forward Joel Eriksson Ek (lower-body) was placed on injured reserve on Thursday.
The Minnesota Wild are:
- 2-6 in their last eight overall
- 4-10 in their last 14 games playing on no days of rest
- 0-5 in their last five games against teams with winning percentages over .600
The Tampa Bay Lightning are:
- 77-37 in their last 114 overall
- 5-1 in their last six road games
- 23-10 in their last 33 games against the Western Conference
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Tampa Bay is generally good from start to finish of every season, at least in recent times, and it is especially formidable in the early going. There is no reason to think the Lightning will suddenly stumble just because they are going on the road. And they have an additional advantage in that Minnesota is playing the second of a back-to-back situation. The Wild have not been good on the back end of two straight games in recent seasons.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Lightning
Full-Game Total Pick
Tampa Bay has surrendered no more than two goals in four of its five outings. A big reason for that, of course, is the unflappable penalty-killing units. The under is 7-1-2 in the Lightning’s last 10 overall, 3-1-2 in their last six on the road, and 4-0 in their last four against the Western Conference. It is also 5-2-1 in the Wild’s last eight overall, 8-2-1 in their last 11 against opponents with winning percentages over .600, and 4-1 in their last five playing on zero days of rest. Additionally, the under is 10-2-1 in the last 13 meetings between the two teams and 5-2 in Tampa Bay’s last seven trips to Minnesota. Look for this one to stay under the total.