The Minnesota Wild have had a pretty easy road lately, coming off sunny vacations during their bye week, comfortably winning a couple homes games and now they finish off the week with a game in Pittsburgh before the NHL All-Star weekend.
The Wild (26-17-5) are back on the road with their 9-13-1 record away from St. Paul taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins (26-21-3), a team that’s 4-0-1 in its past five games and has won four straight home games. The Wild are 13-8-1 against them and 7-4-0 in Pittsburgh.
Captain Obvious will tell you the Wild need to start grabbing points on the road if they want to make a dent in the ultra-competitive Central Division. They’ve won four of their past five games, with just one of those games coming on the road.
First blood this season between the two clubs went to the Wild, with a 2-1 victory at Xcel Energy Center back in October. The Wild got goals from Daniel Winnik and the game-winner from captain Mikko Koivu. Evgeni Malkin scored one of his 21 goals this season that night. The Wild swept the Penguins last season, the first time it’s been done since 2009-10.
Eric Staal, the Wild’s All-Star representative, and Jason Zucker are tied for the team lead with 19 goals this season. Zucker is seeking a goal in five straight games if he can score in Pittsburgh. Zucker has a career-high six game-winning goals this season, leading the Wild and tied for fourth in the league.
Koivu, with just six goals this season, has five assists in the past six games to bring his helper total to 20. Mikael Granlund scored a goal and assist against Ottawa this week, giving him 11 points in his last eight games.
On special teams, the Penguins have the best power play in the NHL (46 for 175). Unfortunately for the Wild, their penalty kill is much worse on the road than its second-best mark at home. It ranks 26th in the league allowing 23 goals in 101 attempts.
The Wild also have a power-play goal in each of their last four games, but the Penguins penalty kill is pretty good, too, ranking eighth in the NHL.
The Minnesota-Pittsburgh connections run deep. Former Gopher Phil Kessel leads the team with 21 goals and 55 points and has a three-game point streak against the Wild. Moorhead’s own Matt Cullen is fresh off back-to-back Cup victories with the Penguins and spent a lot of time on the same line as NHL superstar Sidney Crosby, who has 17 goals and 35 assists this season. It’s Cullen’s first game back in Pittsburgh since his free-agent signing with the Wild.
Crosby needs just one goal to reach 400 for his career. He’d join Mario Lemieux (690 goals) and Jaromir Jagr (439 goals) as the only players in franchise history to reach the milestone. Crosby reached the 300-goal mark on April 1, 2015 against Philadelphia.
Forward Jake Guentzel played high school hockey at Hill-Murray. He has 15 goals and 10 assists this season.
Just for fun: The Penguins are hosting a 1980s theme night.
An update on Nino Niederreiter: Head coach Bruce Boudreau said that Niederreiter skated on Wednesday, and the team hopes he’ll be ready to play against Vegas next Friday. He hasn’t played since Jan. 6 against Colorado.
Nino Niederreiter (lower body), 6 games
Total man games lost: 100
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