A lot was expected of the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild heading into the season, but injuries and lack of production from key players have plagued each team through the first 30 games.
Boston has been without top center David Krejci since Nov. 18 because of a groin injury, and captain Zdeno Chara recently returned to the lineup after missing roughly a month with a knee injury.
Inconsistency has plagued the Wild more than anything else, led by forward Thomas Vanek's four goals in 29 games, but there is still time to figure things out and qualify for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here are five things to watch when the Wild host the Bruins at Xcel Energy Center in this week's edition of the Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN):
1. Who's in goal for the Wild?
Darcy Kuemper was supposed to start against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday but became ill during the afternoon and was unable to play. Niklas Backstrom was forced into action and fought the same stomach illness during the game. He made 34 saves in a 5-3 loss at United Center.
The Wild recalled John Curry from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Wednesday morning, but Yeo told a Twin Cities radio station Wednesday that he expects Backstrom to be back in net.
"Unless he takes a turn for the worse, I expect [Backstrom] will start," Yeo said.
2. Krejci is on the trip
The talented center hasn't played in almost a month but he did travel with the Bruins and watched while they lost 3-2 in a shootout at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
Boston could surely use Krejci's services; the Bruins are 2-5-3 in their past 10 games and have dropped to sixth place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind the Florida Panthers.
Krejci skated Wednesday morning and is a game-time decision.
"Been trying to stay positive throughout whole process," Krejci said, according to the Bruins website. "This is just another step forward. Got to wait and see."
|TALE OF THE TAPE: BRUINS-WILD
|15-13-3 (6th, Atlantic)
||16-12-1 (5th, Central)
||Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record
||Streak vs. Opponent
|1-0-1 @ Minnesota
||Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent
||3-0-1 vs. Bruins
||Stanley Cup Championships
||Hockey Hall of Fame Members
||Most Famous Alumnus
||Hart Trophy Winners
|Wes Walz (1990-92)
||Best Player in Common
||Wes Walz (2000-08)
3. El Nino continues to wreak havoc
Nino Niederreiter is flourishing in his second season with the Wild. The 22-year-old scored his team-leading 14th goal of the season at Chicago on Tuesday and is emerging as one of the better power forwards in the League.
Niederreiter has scored in three of his past four games.
4. Night off for Rask?
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was kept busy in Nashville on Tuesday, when he was peppered with 40 shots. Considering the Bruins had to travel to Minnesota after the game, it is possible coach Claude Julien gives Rask the night off, which would mean a rare start for rookie Niklas Svedberg.
The 25-year-old has played started seven games this season and is 3-4-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. He last played Dec. 1 when he made 33 saves in a 2-0 road loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
5. Vanek's coming around
The Wild were expecting Vanek to be the high-scoring forward that he's been at the NHL level for the past decade. But Vanek, who signed a three-year, $19.5-million contract on July 1, is off to a disappointing start in the State of Hockey.
But Vanek might be figuring things out. he scored his fourth goal of the season Tuesday and has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past four games. After being shuffled around from line to line with hopes of getting him to produce, Vanek may have finally found a home on the Wild's top line alongside Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund.