The Minnesota Wild are one of the NHL’s hottest teams this month thanks to their defense while the Calgary Flames are surging in March because of their offense.
Devan Dubnyk has enjoyed an excellent history against the Flames and could get the start as the Wild seek a fourth straight win Friday night at home.
Minnesota (42-25-7) has 18 points in March largely because of Dubnyk, who is 9-3-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average in 12 starts. He has made 33 straight starts, the most in the NHL since Antti Niemi started 34 straight for San Jose in 2011.
It’s not certain if Dubnyk will start since the Wild are beginning a back-to-back set, though he posted road victories Monday over Toronto and Tuesday over the New York Islanders. Dubnyk is 8-2-2 with a 1.82 GAA in his last 12 starts against the Flames, posting a 30-save shutout in one of his two wins this season between these clubs with Minnesota.
Dubnyk has been aided by a group of defensemen led by Ryan Suter, who averages 29:04 of ice time to rank among the NHL’s leaders.
"Certainly it starts with him (Dubnyk) but the game that our defensemen play, how important that is, it’s huge just in terms of how they execute with the puck and their ability to play on the other side of it, to be in a good position and defend quickly," coach Mike Yeo said.
That defense figures to receive a major test by a Flames team averaging a league-best 3.42 goals in March and owning an NHL-leading plus-36 in third-period goal-scoring differential (91-55). Calgary (40-27-7) has 17 points this month as it tries to finish ahead of Los Angeles for the Pacific Division’s third automatic playoff spot.
"We are in a great spot right now," goaltender Karri Ramo said. "It’s all up to us so we’re in a good situation."
Jiri Hudler has a league-high 18 points in March while linemates Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are among the leaders with 14. Gaudreau is in a tight race with Nashville’s Filip Forsberg for the lead among rookies with 58 points.
The Flames start a five-game trip after capping a 2-1-2 homestand with Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Dallas. Deryk Engelland scored twice and Hudler had an assist to give him six points in a four-game run.
Calgary employs a high-risk style, averaging 11.19 giveaways for one of the league’s worst marks and 9.92 takeaways for one of the league’s best.
"Obviously we have to limit those turnovers, especially in key games like this but it’s part of the game, mistakes are part of it but we just have to make sure we’re better in those areas," winger Lance Bouma said.
Calgary is starting a five-game trip while Minnesota, enjoying a franchise-record 10-game road win streak, begins a five-game homestand. The Wild have won three of their last seven at home.
"We’ve got five games at home, we have to make sure that we get back to being a real tough team to play in our building," Yeo said.
The Wild, who have 91 points for the West’s top wild card, will be without center Kyle Brodziak (upper-body injury).