Goaltender Devan Dubnyk makes his return to the crease for the Minnesota Wild in a home game against Nashville on Friday night. He missed six games with a lower-body injury and made his return to the lineup when he was the back-up for Alex Stalock against Dallas this week.
“I guess it hasn’t been that long, but it feels like a long time,” Dubnyk said.
Dubnyk (12-8-2) last played on Dec. 10 against Calgary but left after the first period with the injury. In his absence, Stalock stepped up and played every minute since, going 4-4.
The Wild (19-15-3) start a home-and-home, back-to-back series with Nashville (22-9-5) in a battle of divisional rivals. The Predators sit atop the division at the moment with 49 points. The Wild rebounded right after the Christmas break with a solid 4-2 victory over another divisional foe, the Dallas Stars.
The challenge will be tough for the Wild to down the Predators, even though Nashville has lost three of their past four games. Thirteen of the past 27 games between these two have been decided by a goal. The Wild are 6-4-1 against Nashville in the past 11 games in St. Paul.
However, the Wild are also just 1-4-0 on the first night of back-to-back series this season.
Quick starts are always a topic of discussion. Last time out between these two clubs, the Predators jumped to a 4-2 lead Nov. 16 in St. Paul before the Wild found another gear and won the game 6-4 with four third-period goals.
Tyler Ennis (6-4—10), coming off a solid game against Dallas, is projected to start on the top line with center Eric Staal and right-wing Charlie Coyle. Staal and Jason Zucker each scored last game, continuing the tie for the team lead in goals with 15 each. Staal has 32 points to lead the Wild.
Center Mikko Koivu leads the Wild with 40 points (eight goals) in 43 career games facing the Predators. Coyle has 12 points in 19 career games against them.
For the Predators, Filip Forsberg leads with 15 goals, 19 assists and 34 points. The energetic P.K. Subban ranks 10th in the league among defenseman with his 25 points. Their No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne is 19-6-3 this season with a .924 save percentage; he has four shutouts in 30 games against Minnesota.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, as fans remember, came to Minnesota in the blockbuster deal from Nashville. He still ranks fifth on the Nashville all-time assists list. This season, he leads the Wild with 18 assists and has 23 points. He also has 16 points in 23 games against his former team.
Zucker finally snapped his offensive funk with an empty-net goal last game. He had the game-winner in this season’s earlier contest against the Predators and has eight goals and three assists in 17 career games versus Nashville.
The Wild’s penalty kill has been perfect in six of the past eight games (33-for-36 for 91.7 percent). Their 53-for-57 penalty at home ranks second in the NHL.
Zach Parise is still out for Minnesota, but he played with the AHL Iowa Wild on Thursday night, registering an assist in the 6-3 loss. It was his first game action of the 2017-18 season. Nino Niederreiter skated by himself prior to Friday’s morning skate.
Nino Niederreiter (lower body), 2 games
Zach Parise (microdiscectomy surgery), 37 games
Total man games lost: 89