ST. PAUL -- Tonight's game between San Jose and Minnesota is definitely a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Sharks have won eight of their last 10 games and have captured at least one point in 12 of 14 games since the Wild won 2-1 Dec. 6 at HP Pavilion.
Minnesota has continued to struggle and has yet to win a game in 2012. Exactly one month ago, the Wild defeated Phoenix 4-1 to capture their seventh consecutive win. At the time, Minnesota was the best team in the National Hockey League.
What a difference a month makes.
The Wild have won just once since then, and have tumbled to the precipice of the Western Conference playoff race, just one point ahead of both Colorado and Dallas for the eighth and final postseason spot. Their record over that stretch is a brutal 1-8-3.
"We've watched their game, and I'm not sure their record is indicative of their play," Sharks coach Todd McClellan said. "They're doing some good things as a team, and they still have their identity they are playing towards. The difference is maybe a post that goes against them that used to go in.
"I think we'll have our hands full, especially in the first 10 or 15 minutes of this game."
Tonight's game also marks the return of popular former Wild defenseman Brent Burns to Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota's first round pick in 2003 Entry Draft, Burns spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Wild before being traded to San Jose last offseason for Devin Setoguchi, a prospect and a draft pick.
Burns scored 46 points for the Wild last season, and though he's quite a bit off that pace (he has just 13 points in 38 games), he's offered the Sharks a steady offensive threat from the blue line and a plus-10 rating.
"I'm excited and nervous to come back," said Burns, who still owns a home in the area. "The first one is always going to be tough. Driving through the city, seeing places I used to eat. Staying at the hotel was a little weird. But it's been fun."
Burns, who was a fan favorite and a staple in the community, should receive a warm welcome when introduced this evening.
"It was tough to see him leave," said Wild defenseman Nick Schultz, one of Burns' best friends. "He was a great player for this team and a big part away from the rink too."
Many in Minnesota expected Marco Scandella to be his eventual replacement with the Wild, and after he made the team out of training camp, Scandella was extremely solid over the season's first couple of months. But his play of late has been indicative of the team's, and on Monday, the Wild sent Scandella back to AHL Houston, where he spent a large chunk of last season. A minus-10, Scandella has just six points in 30 games this season.
The move should free up playing time for the veterans among Minnesota's defensive corps. Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin have been healthy scratches several times over the last week, and coach Mike Yeo has said the numbers game back there has put some undue pressure on all his defensemen.
"Just because he's down doesn't mean we can't bring him right back up," Schultz said. "Guys have to go out and perform and do their job."
Goaltender Josh Harding will earn the start tonight for Minnesota. He started the game a month ago in California and allowed a goal before being knocked from the game just over a minute in after taking a stick to the head.