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First-place Wild begin long homestand by facing Avs

by Brian Hunter
AVALANCHE (8-9-1) at WILD (10-5-3)


Last 10:
Colorado 2-7-1; Minnesota 7-3-0

Season Series: First of six meetings between these Northwest Division rivals. The Wild won four times last season and the Avalanche twice. Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom had a 3-1-0 record, while Colorado was led by Milan Hejduk and David Jones with 4 goals apiece.

Big Story:
In spite of Edmonton's strong start and the presence of the defending Presidents' Trophy winner in Vancouver, it's none other than Minnesota leading the division six weeks into the season. The Wild won their only Northwest title in 2007-08, but haven't qualified for the playoffs since. They're come out of the gate well under rookie coach Mike Yeo, with the second-best team goals-against average in the NHL at 2.06.

Team Scope:

Back in October, a record run of road success made up for Colorado's struggles on home ice. But lately the Avalanche are struggling to win anywhere. They dropped to 1-5-1 in November with Tuesday's 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh, a game they led 3-1 after Jones scored in the final minute of the first period. Matt Duchene's highlight-reel goal also sparked the Avs early, but the Penguins stormed back with five unanswered to put a damper on Hejduk's first game since Colorado named him captain.

"Not the way I wanted my first game as captain to go," Hejduk, who had an assist, told the Denver Post. "I thought we were playing great, but then they got some breaks and kind of took it to us."

Wild: This marks the beginning of a six-game homestand in which Minnesota hopes to add a little distance between itself and the rest of the Northwest. The Wild just completed a five-game road trip by gaining six of a possible 10 points. In the rubber game Tuesday, they overcame a two-goal deficit after the first period and rallied for a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets. Matt Cullen and Nick Johnson scored 20 seconds apart to tie it in the second, then Cal Clutterbuck's goal 7:38 into the third proved decisive.

"I was real impressed with the character of the guys," Yeo said. "It would have been really easy when you're that tired, you don't have everything in the tank you had at the start of the trip, to just say, 'OK, it wasn't our night. It wasn't a terrible trip. We got a couple of wins here, let's just move on to our homestand,' but the guys didn't do that."

Who's Hot: Duchene and Jones have each scored in consecutive games for the Avalanche, tying Hejduk for the team lead with 7 goals. Hejduk has 3 goals and 3 assists during a four-game points streak. … Cullen has goals in consecutive games for the Wild. Backstrom went 3-1 on the road trip with a sparkling .953 save percentage.

Injury Report:
Colorado forward Peter Mueller has been skating back in Denver as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Forward Brandon Yip is on injured reserve with a broken forearm. … Minnesota defenseman Marek Zidlicky (head) is day-to-day. Defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Guillaume Latendresse are out indefinitely with concussions. Defensemen Mike Lundin (back spasms) and Greg Zanon (groin) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
The Avalanche have operated at a 26.2 percent success rate on the power play this season, but went 0-for-2 against the Penguins. The second power play lasted for just the final 10 seconds of the game. … Wild forward Kyle Brodziak scored a quarter of his 16 goals last season against the Avs.

Puck Drop:
Zidlicky absorbed a heavy hit from Columbus forward Derek Dorsett on Tuesday, and there was concern he could Scandella and Latendresse as Minnesota players who have suffered concussions in the past week alone. Zidlicky's potential absence would also further deplete an already thin blue line.

"We've shown we have young guys who can step up," Yeo told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "If we have to go that route we will."

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