Lots of early-season home games - and success - have helped the Minnesota Wild take the lead in the Northwest Division.
The Wild look to extend that lead and remain unbeaten at the Xcel Energy Center when they host the second-place Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Minnesota (9-2-0) enjoyed the best October in the franchise's seven seasons, thanks in large part to winning all seven of its home games. The Wild have won a club-record 10 consecutive games at home dating to the end of last season.
The Wild have dominated all facets of the game while playing at home. They've outscored the opposition 22-13, converted on 11-of-46 power plays (23.9 percent) and killed off 33 of 36 short-handed situations.
Right wing Brian Rolston leads the club with nine goals - seven at home - and 13 points. Three of his goals have been game-winners. The strong production led Wild coach Jacques Lemaire to announce Rolston will serve as team captain for the second consecutive month in November.
Minnesota is using a rotating captaincy this season.
"Obviously, it's an honor," Rolston said on the team's Web site, www.wild.com. "We had a great month of October, and if we can keep this kind of pace up in November ... it's going to be a tough month. Hopefully, we can continue to do good things."
The upcoming schedule will pose a challenge. After home games with Vancouver (7-5-1) and Central Division-leading Nashville, the Wild play eight of their following 10 games on the road, where it is 2-2-0 this season after losing 4-1 at Colorado on Saturday.
Pavol Demitra scored his second goal of the season and Manny Fernandez made 32 saves for the Wild, but the Avalanche outshot Minnesota 36-21 in the victory.
"It was like they played against a junior team tonight," Lemaire said after his team suffered its first loss by more than one goal this season. "We had no energy, no legs, no hands. Nothing!"
The last six contests between the Wild and Canucks have been decided by one-goal margins, but Vancouver has gotten the better of the recent meetings, going 5-1-2 in its last seven games against Minnesota.
The Wild needed a shootout to defeat the Canucks 2-1 on Oct. 10 in St. Paul, when Petteri Nummelin beat Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo in the fourth round to secure the victory. Luongo stopped 35 of 36 shots in regulation and overtime for the Canucks.
Luongo finished with 22 saves against Nashville on Tuesday, but allowed two goals in the first 8:11 of the game. Markus Naslund's sixth goal of the season tied the contest at 8:12 of the third period, but Steve Sullivan beat Luongo six minutes later for the deciding score in the 3-2 defeat.
"That's my job," said Luongo, who is 5-2 with a 1.72 goals-against average in road games this season. "I hate getting down early like that all the time, it's a bit challenging mentally when you give up two goals early, but you've got to fight through those things and keep battling."
The Canucks, who trail Minnesota by three points in the Northwest Division, have played well despite spending much of the season's first month away from home, going 5-3-1 in nine road games.
After playing at Colorado on Friday, the Canucks return to Vancouver for a six-game homestand.
|Mar 13 '07||MIN 3 at VAN 2 - OT||B. Burns|
|Mar 04 '07||MIN 3 at VAN 4 - SO||D. Sedin|
|Feb 14 '07||VAN 3 at MIN 2 - OT||S. Salo|
|Jan 11 '07||MIN 5 at VAN 2||B. Radivojevic|
|Dec 19 '06||VAN 2 at MIN 5||B. Radivojevic|
|Dec 16 '06||MIN 1 at VAN 2||M. Ohlund|
|Nov 02 '06||VAN 2 at MIN 5||N. Schultz|
|Oct 10 '06||VAN 1 at MIN 2 - SO||P. Nummelin|