Wild Look To Extend Streak, Gain Ground On Avs
AVALANCHE (20-11-6) at WILD (17-15-3)
-- Colorado 6-3-1, Minnesota 7-3-0
-- Fifth meeting of six between divisional opponents, and the Wild have swept the first four. They're 12-1-2 in their last 15 regular-season games against the Avs, but eight of the last nine meetings have been decided by one goal and two Minnesota victories this year have come in shootouts.
"Any year, any team can have another team's number; they just happen to have ours right now," defenseman Brett Clark told the Avalanche's official Web site. "We have to step up and change that starting tomorrow. We just need to stick to our game plan and worry about ourselves."
-- The Wild were on fire prior to their game in Ottawa, then their equipment caught fire. That wasn't a factor in Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom's rough outing against the Senators, losing 4-1, but his next opponent is quite a different story. He's 14-2-2 with a 1.99 GAA against Colorado lifetime, with three wins this year alone, and the team has a four-game winning streak against them at Xcel Energy Center.
-- It was a nice bounce back after a serious drubbing. Four days after the Capitals came in and delivered a 6-1 haymaker, Wojtek Wolski took things over quickly against the Blue Jackets on Saturday, setting up Chris Stewart
21 seconds in and scoring the next two goals himself as the Avalanche cruised to a 5-2 win, taking three out of their five-game homestand.
They hold a two-point advantage over the Flames in the Northwest Division and would like to keep it going into the Christmas break.
“It would be great heading into the break leading the division, but we just have to take it one day at a time,” said Clark. “We have to worry about Minnesota. We need to come out firing on all cylinders (tonight)"
-- It's always good to be home, but in the Wild's case, it's quite a relief. Everyone knows about the fire and having to play in Ottawa with brand-new equipment, but the craziness continued in Montreal for rookie Clayton Stoner, whose sticks got lost by a commercial airline.
"Luckily, I use Reebok and [equipment manager] Tony [DaCosta] knew the Reebok factory was in Montreal, so Tony had my sticks by the pregame skate," Stoner said to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I was worried because I didn't want to be playing my first game trying to get used to new sticks. That'd be terrible."
What might be more frustrating, however, is despite a 10-2-1 record over their 13 games going into Ottawa, the Wild had gained only four points in the standings.
Two reasons are the number of three-point games and the West's record against the East so far. A total of 138 three-point games mean there a lot of overtime/shootout "loser points" being handed out and a 78-40-6 mark means Western Conference teams have been padding their records with wins over the East.
-- Wild right winger Martin Havlat, with three goals and seven assists in his past 10 games, is expected to play his 500th NHL game tonight. Center Mikko Koivu scored the deciding goals in both of the Wild's shootout victories over Colorado. Koivu also ended the Wild's 0-for-19 power-play drought with a goal against Montreal on Saturday.
Colorado's top line of 23-year-olds Wolski and Paul Stastny
, combined with 22-year-old Stewart, collected three goals and three assists in the Blue Jackets win, with Stastny (4g/12a) and Stewart (7g/9a) each recording 16 points over their last 14 games. Wolski has 20 (6g/14a) over his last 17.
-- Wild forwards Owen Nolan (leg injury) and Eric Belanger (flu) are slated to return to action tonight, while Guillaume Latendresse and Robbie Earl (flu) are questionable. Defenseman Brent Burns and forwards Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard remain sidelined by concussions.
On the Avs side, defenseman Kyle Cumiskey
(foot), returned to the ice Sunday morning for the first time since his injury Nov. 23. Defenseman Ruslan Salei (back) and forward David Jones
(knee) are out, while RW Marek Svatos also took part in the Sunday skate, but did not travel with the team.
-- Avs goalie Craig Anderson
is expected to start in Minnesota, which would set a new career-high with 32 starts this year. With seven wins in December so far, the Wild are one off their franchise high for that month.
-- No excuses for the Wild as far as points are concerned, they have a chance to gain ground on the Northwest Division leader tonight. As for Colorado, they simply have to do the same thing they did Saturday, dominate early and often.