After a red-hot start to the season, the Minnesota Wild ran into injury problems and trouble. However, they appear to be on the verge of getting healthy fast.
The first-place Wild hope to have two of their top-line forwards back on the ice Thursday night as they try to end a four-game losing streak in a home matchup with the St. Louis Blues.
The Wild (7-3-2) leaped out to a 7-0-1 start - a surge that has allowed them to stay atop the Northwest Division by one point despite suffering three regulation defeats and a shootout loss since. Minnesota's skid continued Tuesday night, as it fell 4-2 to Pittsburgh.
Petr Sykora's power-play goal with 9:55 to play broke a 2-2 tie as the Penguins took advantage of a Wild club that has been severely short-handed. Minnesota was missing its top three players, with dynamic forwards Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra and No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom down with injuries.
Demitra (strained right adductor) missed the last four games, while Backstrom (groin) has sat out three and Gaborik (groin) two.
"It's a huge hole, there's no question, but we have enough guys in here to get the job done," said Wild forward Brian Rolston, who scored a short-handed goal Tuesday. "We were in the game tonight, all the way through it. We just need to be a little bit better."
Rolston and his teammates, though, are about to get Demitra and Gaborik back. Demitra was activated from injured reserve Thursday, clearing the way for his return, while Gaborik is also expected to play against the Blues. The pair has combined for four goals and 12 assists this season.
Minnesota lost at home for the first time in five games this season Tuesday, but may be facing the right team as it tries to get back in the win column. The Wild are 9-1-1 with two ties in the last 13 meetings with St. Louis and have won three straight, defeating the Blues 3-1 on the road in the first matchup of the season Oct. 20.
The Blues (6-4-0) are off to a decent start but have been unable to gain any momentum of late, alternating losses and wins in their last five games since a four-game winning streak. St. Louis failed to take advantage of a home matchup with last-place Phoenix on Tuesday, falling 2-1 to drop to 0-2-0 against the Coyotes this season.
Fredrik Sjostrom scored the winner on a wraparound with 2:58 to go as Phoenix outplayed St. Louis in the third period. The Coyotes outshot the Blues 15-4 and scored twice in the final 20 minutes after falling behind on Brad Boyes' goal 5:52 into the third.
"It was a bad goal," St. Louis goaltender Manny Legace said of the go-ahead score. "He got lucky. It cost us the game. This was probably the toughest loss so far."
The Blues had a 21-12 shots advantage the first two periods, but were unable to capitalize. St. Louis had been at its best in the final period, scoring 11 of its first 27 goals then while holding opponents to five.
"I'd say it's a very tough one to swallow," coach Andy Murray said. "As I've said before, you get what you deserve."
The Wild might play Thursday without defenseman Kim Johnsson, who bruised a leg in the second period against Pittsburgh and didn't return.
Minnesota will be playing the second game of a four-game homestand, while St. Louis plays three of its next four on the road.