Due to the unusual circumstances of the 2020-21 NHL season, the league has seen some changes to its divisions. Additionally, there will be only interdivisional play, causing teams to become very familiar with each other. When teams are competing for a playoff spot, these games can become incredibly important, and emotions can get high. With all of the games they will be playing against each other in what could be a tight division, the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild are bound to form a new NHL rivalry.
The Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild Could Become a New NHL Rivalry
When looking at these two teams, there really is not much rich history between them. Neither team is in the same division in a “normal year,” and they have not faced off in any recent playoff series. Seeing a new NHL rivalry between the two might seem strange, but it is bound to happen.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL had to shuffle up its divisions to reduce travel as much as they could. As a result of this, the Wild, who are usually in the Central Division, ended up paired with the Kings, who are usually in the Pacific Division. Now, it is no secret that the West Division is fairly weak, and could be the weakest in the NHL. It consists of three of the seven teams who missed the 24 team playoffs at the end of last year.
With the new division format, the top four teams qualify for the postseason. Three of the eight teams in the division finished in the top four of the Western Conference last year, and they all seem to be a step above the rest. This essentially leaves one playoff spot open to the other five teams, and it could really be anyone’s to take.
Kings and Wild
With that said, the next best team in the division is probably the Wild. However, the Kings have made it clear that they believe they can compete for a playoff spot in this division, and if that is true, the Wild will be their most important opponent. The outcomes of the Kings games against Minnesota could very well determine whether or not they qualify for the playoffs.
Obviously, the biggest factor in this rivalry will be the aforementioned competition for a playoff spot. The Kings know how important these games are for them and will do everything in their power to project that importance onto the ice. It is inevitable for the Wild to feel that too, and respond to it. As the season goes on and these two teams play each other, the chippiness will increase. Each time they face-off, the two points that can be won will be more and more important to push one team ahead of the other in the standings.
Another interesting factor both of these teams have is impact rookies. The Wild have Kirill Kaprizov, already playing on their top line, who is arguably the favourite for the Calder Trophy. The Kings, on the other hand, have several rookies playing high in their lineup. Gabriel Vilardi is being used in both a second and third-line centre role and is considered a dark horse Calder candidate by some. Similarly, Mikey Anderson started the season on the second-paring but has recently worked his way into being Drew Doughty‘s partner on the top pair. The Kings also have another rookie defenceman in Kale Clague, who has worked his way into the team’s top-four recently as well. With each team having impact rookies, it can make an exciting battle and showcase of young talent from each squad. They will be looking to show each other up.
Currently, the Wild sit atop the West Division tied with the Vegas Golden Knights. Each team has a 4-1-0 record. The Wild have not had too much of a challenge yet, however, as their first five games have been against the Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks. These are games they should be expected to win for the most part. The team will really be tested once they face some of the stronger teams in the division.
The Kings, on the other hand, have not necessarily had the start they wanted. They sit with a 1-2-2 record. tied with Anaheim and San Jose with just four points. It is worth mentioning, however, that the Kings have had a much tougher start to their season than Minnesota. The Kings first five games have consisted of Minnesota, the Colorado Avalanche, and the St. Louis Blues. While they may not have gotten off to a strong start, what will really determine the outcome of their season is how they play against Minnesota and the other teams in the division. The games against Vegas, Colorado, and St. Louis are not vital to their playoff chances. So, even though they appear off to a tough start, they have lost mainly games they were never really expected to win (other than Minnesota of course).
Head to Head
The teams both began their seasons facing off against each other in a two-game series. In both games, the Wild scored the first goal, which was then followed by three unanswered goals from LA. The Kings would then choke their 3-1 lead each time in the third period, causing the games to go to overtime. In overtime, the Wild came out victorious both times.
This currently puts the Wild ahead in their eight-game hunt for points. The Wild lead 2-0, but the Kings did manage to grab a point in each contest. With six games remaining between the two, the Kings can only afford to lose two of them to split the games with Minnesota, and can only lose one if they want to take the series.
Overall, the winner of this season series could very well determine the winner of the fourth playoff spot in the West Division. As each team begins to recognize and feel this importance, they will begin to play these games with more emotion and develop what could be the next NHL rivalry between them.