The Minnesota Wild have played a bunch of games on the road and a bunch of games against the Eastern Conference so far this season. Thursday, they’ll welcome a division rival and reigning Western Conference champion Nashville Predators in hopes of extending their season-high winning streak to four games.
The Wild (8-7-2) won last year’s season series against the Predators (10-5-2) with three wins and two losses. In a tight division, this has also been a tight rivalry between the two clubs. Thirteen of the last 26 games have been one-goal games. The Wild are 17-12-4 against Nashville in St. Paul.
However, the Predators are red-hot right now, in the middle of a five-game winning streak going back to Nov. 3 in Anaheim. They’re averaging 4.4 goals per game and nearly 30 shots on goal per game with four power-play goals. Six in a row for the Predators would be the first time they’ve done that since Feb. 7-17, 2015.
With that, something will have to give as they come in to face the league’s hottest goaltender: Devan Dubnyk.
Dubnyk is riding a shutout streak of 195:05 with 106 consecutive saves. The Wild’s three-game winning streak corresponds to Dubnyk’s run of three straight shutouts. He made 30 saves his last time out in a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
No doubt the goaltending from Dubnyk has been much improved over this recent stretch. But the Wild aren’t helping him out too much either. For guys not named Jason Zucker, only Nino Niederreiter and Eric Staal (empty-netter) have put the puck in the net for the Wild over the past four games. Zucker has scored seven of the team’s last nine goals.
Dubnyk (7-6-1) has improved his save percentage to .926 this season, tied with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne (9-2-2). Dubnyk was 3-0-0 with a 1.97 GAA and .943 save percentage in three starts against the Predators last year and has two shutouts in 19 career games (18 starts).
The Wild came out sluggish in the first two periods against the Flyers, or a typical first game back from a road trip, coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. Despite Zucker missing the mark for NHL history, the consensus from the dressing room was everyone seemed glad someone else scored a goal.
“But we need contributions from everybody to succeed,” Boudreau said.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that the Wild’s offensive struggles have come when the power play isn’t lighting the lamp either. The Wild are 3 for 26 at home with the man advantage; only three other teams in the league have a worse mark. The Wild’s power play overall is 8 for 52, ranked not much better at 26th in the NHL.
At least the penalty kill has been solid. The Wild are fifth in the NHL allowing just nine goals on 60 attempts and are 14 for 14 over the last five games. It will match up against a Predators road power play that’s just 5 for 43.
Mikko Koivu leads the Wild with 39 points – though just eight goals – in 42 meetings against the Predators. Matt Cullen is facing one of his old teams (2013-15), and of course, Ryan Suter has a lengthy tenure playing for Nashville as well. Suter has 15 points against his former team.
Filip Forsberg leads the Predators this season with 17 points (9 G, 8 A), followed by Kyle Turris and P.K. Subban with 12 points each. Forsberg also has 10 points in 15 career games against the Wild.
Two points for the Wild against a division rival could provide a big boost to the team's confidence and in the Central Division standings. Colorado has moved into the division basement with 17 points and a game in hand over the Wild with 18 points. Only 10 points separate the bottom from the top in one of the tightest NHL divisions. The Predators are in third with 22 points.
Zach Parise (microdiscectomy surgery), 17 games
Charlie Coyle, IR, (right fibula fracture), 14 games
Total man games lost: 50
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