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Avalanche host Wild in battle for points in Central

by Adam Kimelman

WILD (18-11-5) at AVALANCHE (21-9-0)


Last 10: Minnesota 3-6-1; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series: It's the third of five games between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche won the first two, sweeping a home-and-home set Nov. 29-30.

Big story: It might look like there's lots of time left in the schedule, but the Wild and Avalanche are desperate for points in a quest to grab third place in the Central Division. The teams enter their game Saturday with the Avalanche one point ahead of the Wild.

With three of the next four games at home, the Avalanche will look to build on their lead. The Wild, in the midst of a stretch of seven of eight on the road, are trying to hang in the race.

Team Scope:

Wild: One of the reasons Minnesota has gone 3-4-1 in its past eight games is the absence of forward Mikael Granlund, which has led to a lack of production behind the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville.

The latest move by Wild coach Mike Yeo to create something offensively is the recall of center Erik Haula on Friday from the American Hockey League.

The Wild plan for their game Saturday against the Avalanche is to have Haula center the second line, playing between Nino Niederreiter and Pominville. That would move Charlie Coyle from second-line center to Pominville's spot on right wing with Parise and Koivu.

Whether that's the plan Yeo sticks with, the Wild need to find goals from somewhere. Pominville (15) and Parise (14) have scored 38.2 percent of the Wild's 76 non-shootout goals. In eight games without Granlund, the Wild have 14 goals.

Avalanche: Matt Duchene has scored 20 goals twice and played in an NHL All-Star Game, but could the Avalanche forward be skating into elite territory?

He had a hand in all three Avalanche goals in regulation, scoring two and setting up a third, then scored the deciding goal in the shootout when the Avalanche rallied to beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 on Thursday.

The three-point game puts Duchene on pace for career-bests of 41 goals and 70 points. No Colorado player has had a 70-point season since Paul Stastny in 2009-10, and the most recent Avalanche skater to score that many goals was Milan Hejduk with 50 in 2002-03.

Who's hot: Wild goalie Josh Harding has allowed six goals in his past four games and entered the weekend ranked in the top four in the League in wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. … Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist in the win against the Jets; he had one point in his previous eight games.

Injury report: Granlund (concussion) is the only Wild player on the injury list. … Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay (hip/knee) and defensemen Jan Hejda (knee) and Ryan Wilson (back) are out.

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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